You can hear it, can’t you? That constant, high-pitch squeal that settles around us every minute of every day. Some times it drowns out conversation or simply obliterates certain sounds. At it’s most intense, it scrambles thought. Ever present, ever annoying, it is the noisy companion to every moment we are awake.
Of course, not everyone hears it. Maybe you don’t. What I’ve just detailed is tinnitus. It is often described as a ringing in the ears, although mine is more like incessant feedback from a poorly regulated public address system.
Whatever it is, it is persistent and piercing. I have been known to beg this invisible assailant to stop, even for a little while. But it doesn’t.
In truth, I’m simply reaping the consequences of my youth. A few too many decibels, too many times, as I had the time of my life drumming for various amateur garage bands, college jazz ensembles, and even a semi-professional Eagles-like group.
Even with my present condition, I don’t think I would change those times of making music with friends and, a few times, playing before large crowds or recording an album. (Although, I think I would consider ear protection.) The truth is, all of the things I have experienced make up a part of the individual I’ve become. And, while I wish that I was different in some ways, I’ve come to see that God will use me as I am and where I am. There’s a simple beauty and strength to that.
In this series, I’ve been writing about overcoming our feelings of inadequacy and insignificance in the face of great — bigger than us — challenges. Because the truth is, God can employ whatever we have and are willing to give to make a difference. Thus far, I have highlighted a few things that we can use, with God’s help, to bring good to the world around us. First, I suggested that we Create a Small Place in our hearts that will allow room for God to work. Next, I recommended that we Breathe a Small Prayer to invite Him into that space.
The third step in moving from small things to great things is, once we’ve created a space and invited a higher power to share it with us, to allow ourselves to hear, consider, and respond to the small answer that will certainly come.
So what does tinnitus have to do with hearing small answers? Quite simply, just as the incessant tone in my ears can mask my perception of quality sounds, the consequences and the baggage of my past can prevent me from grasping and appreciating the obvious opportunities and solutions that are right in front of me.
The key is intentionally opening ourselves to the answer. Just as I seek ways to compensate for my tinnitus, I must develop techniques for hearing small answers. The parallels are remarkable:
- With practice, I can mentally suppress the noise that prevents me from hearing. That means, that I must first recognize my life experience for what it is and make room for other thoughts and perspectives.
- I can expand my understanding by concentrating on the context of the situation and what I’m perceiving.
- I can move closer to those I’m seeking to understand and allow their voices to become louder. I can step into their perspective.
- I can kindly and gently seek clarification on those things I couldn’t quite grasp.
- I can join those around me in restating that small answer and deciding what our next steps might look like as we pursue solutions.
Some times we mistakenly believe that small answers are no match for big problems. Yet, time and again, we see that the difference in an average person and a remarkable person is the small space they create in their hearts, the small prayers they make that invite a larger presence, and their willingness to consider the small answers that appear.
I hope you’ll join me in quieting the inner noises that prevent our hearing of small, but elegant, answers.