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Hearing God (by Billy Coffey)

My children have recently decided to forgo their usual extended Sunday School for the “big people preachin’.” Which was a surprise to me, since both of them have always seemed to enjoy a Sunday morning service that consisted of a Bible story outside, some coloring, and then hitting the playground. I know I would.

But my daughter is not the sweet little girl anymore as much as she is the sweet young lady. Crayons and swing sets just weren’t cutting it when it came to spending the Sabbath with the Almighty. So yesterday when we pulled into the parking lot, she looked at me and said, “I want to sit with you and Mommy today.”

To which my son replied, “Me, too!”

Well. Alrighty then.

We took a quick survey of Big Church decorum (“Be still, be nice, and be quiet,” I said) and strolled into the sanctuary as a family for the first time.

Our church had become newfangled in our worship. In place of actual hymnals with actual pages, two giant screens on either side of the sanctuary flashed the lyrics to our worship songs. Fine for tall people. Not for munchkins. My daughter couldn’t see the ginormous screen because of the ginormous football-playing teenager in front of her.

“Let’s move closer,” she said.

I offered to let her run point, and she proceeded to lead us all the way to the front. Reading the screen would now be akin to sitting in the front row of a movie theater, but this is what you do for your children.

That particular spot also happened to be directly behind the three rows reserved for our congregation’s deaf members. I wasn’t sure who had thought of the idea of providing someone to translate the preacher’s spoken words into sign language, but he or she deserved a lot of praise. All three rows were full, and full every Sunday.

The praise team began their first song. My daughter stood on the chair beside mine, holding onto my arm for dear life and belting out lyrics for all to hear. But me, I didn’t do much singing. Or listening. No, my attention had been placed squarely upon the three rows of churchgoers in front of us.

They were wonderful, those people. Happy and smiling. Far from being outcasts in the service, they were active participants. They still received the pastor’s wisdom. They still sang, only with hands instead of words.

They still praised God.

But they couldn’t hear our praise team. They couldn’t grasp the rhythms of the guitars and keyboard and drums. They couldn’t hear the emotional crack in our pastor’s voice has he recalled a monumental battle of faith he once endured.

They understood, those three rows of people. They knew the facts of the songs and the sermon. But I couldn’t help but think they were missing out on the feeling.

Because that, by and large, is what sound does. It brings feeling.

Like the feeling of peace when the rain taps your roof. Or the feeling of bliss at your children’s laughter. It’s the wonder that comes from hearing a summer thunderstorm or the joy of sleigh bells at Christmas. Those are the little moments of life, the seeds of lasting memory. Ones made neither by sight nor touch, but by sound.

Yet just as I began to mourn for them, I realized other sounds they would never have to hear.

Like the sound of tears being wept. Hate being spewed. Anger being vented.

They may have missed some of the best things in life, but they also missed some of the worst.

Like me.

Because we were not so different in our limitations. I could hear, but that didn’t mean I always listened. Just like I could look but not always see and touch but not always feel. In the end, we are all handicapped in some way. That’s what being human meant.

With the help of an interpreter, I spoke with one of them after the service. Michael, he signed. An amazing guy with an amazing heart for God. Also someone who was, unlike me, quite content with his limitations.

Hearing could wait, he said. And I was wrong, Michael could feel plenty. He could feel the love of God, the closeness of the congregation, and the faith he knew to be true. Hearing, he said, could wait. And I don’t blame him. Because the first thing he will ever hear will be his Father saying, “Welcome home.”

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at What I Learned Today.

And in case you missed it, Kat Smith over at Heart to Heart posted an interview with Billy yesterday. You can check it out here.