51: Is Anyone Listening?

51: Is Anyone Listening?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Is Anyone Listening?

Evening, morning and noon I will pray and cry aloud and He shall hear my voice.

~Psalm 55:17

“I’m done with you, God. I don’t think you’re listening anyway, but if you are, I’m done.” It was no spur-of-the-moment decision. It was the end of a long struggle with depression and an overwhelming sense of failure.

I was pastor of a small church, and my income was inadequate for a family of four. To provide the things I wanted for my two daughters, I worked extra jobs. I kept those jobs private as much as possible. Working extra jobs would have made me look like a failure, I thought. I was trying to maintain an image of success.

I drove a nice car, but it was a gift from my father-in-law. Unable to afford medical insurance, my daughters’ births had been paid for with cash from my pocket. My wife had a major car wreck when she was pregnant, and the bills had piled up.

In reality, I had nothing to complain about. Everyone in my family was healthy. My daughters filled our house with laughter and love. We had a decent home to live in. To the rest of the world, we looked successful. But I felt that I had nothing, and that was the whole point of my depression: how I felt.

I felt no joy in marriage. How could a wife respect a husband who had no respect for himself? My daughters respected me only because they were not old enough to know what a loser I was. That’s the way I felt. Now they were coming to an age where they would know.

My church had no idea that I battled depression. I preached hope and inspiration on Sundays, then went home to wonder why I couldn’t have done it better, why I wasn’t effective, why I wasn’t loved, why my income was so small.

For months I had stayed up late, long after my wife and girls had gone to bed. I would sit up and read until my eyes finally closed, until my head finally nodded, and only then I would trudge to my bed and try to find some relief in sleep.

So it was on that fateful night when the stress of bills and relationships finally took its toll. It was well past midnight when my head finally nodded. In my fatigue, I closed a book and laid it on the coffee table. Before I could rise from the sofa, something in me snapped and said, “Enough!”

I slid off the couch and onto the floor, froze on my knees for a moment, and then slid forward until I lay pitifully with my face buried in the fibers of the carpet, my arms outstretched. In this prostrate position I finally divorced myself from hope that God was going to help me. That’s when I uttered, “I’m done with you, God. I don’t think you’re listening anyway, but if you are, I’m done.”

I rose, resolute now that I had decided it was time to move on. I went quickly to bed. Almost angrily I undressed in the dark, throwing my shirt on the floor. My wife’s soft snoring irritated me. If I was leaving God, maybe I would leave her too. I didn’t know. I just knew I had done something big, something final.

Sleep came at some point, but it didn’t last long. Around two o’clock, the stillness was pierced by the ringing of the phone. When a pastor’s phone rings at 2 a.m., it usually means tragedy has struck. I fumbled in the dark until my hand hit the phone, and answered with my best pastoral voice.

“Hello.”

“I’m sorry to be calling so late at night, you don’t know me, and, uh, we’ve never met,” he stuttered. Then he started asking me if I was the same person who wrote a column in a certain magazine (I was), and the same person who had written a particular short story in a religious magazine (I was), and after those clarifying questions, he was content that I was the person he was intending to call.

Then he started apologizing again, and I wearied of it and cut him off: “Is there something I can help you with?”

“No, I’m not calling for help. I’m calling because a few nights ago I was praying and I felt like I was supposed to call you and tell you something. I mean, I’m not a super spiritual guy, but I was praying, and it was like God just spoke to me and told me to call you and give you a message, and I was like . . . oh, man, I don’t know him, and he’ll think I’m crazy . . . .”

I yawned in the dark, and realized I had answered a psycho’s call. My wife shuffled on the other side of the bed, and keeping my voice low, I said, “Well, you’ve got me, why don’t you just cut to the chase and tell me whatever it is you think you’re supposed to tell me?”

He spit it out rapidly. “I’m so embarrassed now that I’ve actually called you. But I’m telling you, I have been unable to sleep for the past two nights, tossing and turning and thinking that God is telling me to call you, and I lay down tonight, four hours ago, and I couldn’t sleep until I called you, and now that I have . . . oh, my, I can’t apologize enough . . . .”

“Stop with the apologizing!” I grunted.

He didn’t stop. “It’s only two words,” he exclaimed, “and I really feel foolish that I’ve wakened you . . . .”

“Just stop,” I said. “Just get it off your mind, and let’s go back to bed.”

“Okay. It’s just two words: God hears.”

I didn’t respond.

The silence rattled him. “I’m sorry, that’s it. Does that mean anything to you?”

I still didn’t respond, and he starting apologizing again.

I stopped him. “Trust me, it means something. You go back to bed now, and I’m sure you’ll be able to sleep.”

I hung up on the stranger, slipped out of bed, and tiptoed back down the hallway and into the living room. I slipped between the sofa and the coffee table and lay down, my face buried in the fibers of the carpet, arms spread. It was important to me to try to duplicate the exact place and position where I had been only an hour earlier. When I was sure I was in the same spot where I had told God I did not think He was listening, I began apologizing.

“How could I think that You were not listening?” I cried.

I woke in the morning feeling fresh and energized. Two words became and remain my mantra for every prayer: God hears.

~Danny Carpenter

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