My oldest dog Elinor just turned 14 which is fairly old for a dog. Her spirit is still fairly strong, but her body is weaker than it used to be. You can see the stiffness in her joints and the pain she experiences when she walks, but her desire to be filled with vigor is still definitely there. When we call her, she rarely responds, and when we tell her to come back, she never complies. She will incessantly bark at all the wrong hours of the day, and when we tell her to stop, she never does. All of this evidence adds up to the conclusion that she is mostly deaf. However, open a bag of treats while she is on the other side of the house, and she will come running. I tend to disagree with the deaf diagnosis and feel that in her age, she has developed selective hearing. She chooses to hear what she wants to, and at her age, and I suppose she’s earned that right. On the other hand, I might argue that my 7 year old son has not earned that right, especially when I ask him to put something away or clean up after himself. Nor have my students earned that right either, especially when they’ve selectively forgotten that I told them they had homework. There is a distinct difference between someone who is hard of hearing and a message that is hard to hear. When we find someone else’s words uncomfortable and against our desires, we tune them out. We develop selective hearing when we hear things upon which we don’t want to act. The Bible is riddled with people who heard the voice of God directly or through a prophet who chose not listen, and as a result, were punished, reinforcing the idea that choosing not to listen to wisdom never works in our favor. God’s reasons for having us listen to reason and wisdom are quite simple. When Solomon wrote the wisdom of Proverbs, in the opening chapter he laid out his purpose for writing these words which include: “for gaining wisdom and instruction, for understanding…for receiving instruction…for giving prudence…—let the wise listen and add to their learning” (1.2-5). There is great strength to be gained in listening to wisdom, and God can often speak to us through the people around us, using them as His vessel. So, how do we know when God is trying to tell us something? The times when that strong desire to not even want to think about or consider what others are saying because the message is too hard to hear is usually the times when God is trying to talk to us and we are not listening. When we may not want to even entertain the company of a specific person or group because we don’t want to hear what is said may be because the message is too hard to hear for us personally. It affects us too deeply. For many of us, it’s hard to hear to forgive when you’ve been hurt so deeply. It’s hard to hear to sacrifice when you hold so dearly on to certain things. It’s hard to hear to cut out a part of your life when you find so much comfort in it. It’s hard to hear to give when you have nothing left to offer. In this New Year, spend time seeking out the people and situations where you have developed selective hearing. When what others have to say is hard to hear, it mostly likely needs to be heard, and not listening to God’s counsel can have dire consequences, but listening to a hard to hear message will ultimately bring you closer to God. Amen.