Often, deserts become so dry that when it finally rains, instead of the water seeping into the ground, it tends to create flash floods. In contrast, soil that is accustomed to rain can soak up considerable amounts of water and still not become saturated. I remember very clearly an experience of this when I was younger. I was at a soccer game in which the field was carefully maintained, and it had been raining heavy. For some reason, I decided to lie down on the grass, and I remember being struck at how dry the ground felt.
Our spiritual life can be similar. The problem is when our suffering makes our hearts hard and dry like the desert soil. When this happens, even the slightest suffering can become compounded and soon spiral out of our control. Instead of being able to experience and process our pain and anxiety, we often fall into malformed patterns of coping that can build into layers of illusions and hiding. This leads us to mistakenly view that the key to happiness is to minimize suffering and maximize pleasure.
Holy, happy, and healthy people are not people who suffer less than others. In fact, they sometimes suffer more than others. However, they resemble the soft, tender soil that is able to receive the rain without flooding. In this way, they are able to face their suffering and to undergo it without losing their inner peace. This inner stillness is not so much an act of the will, but rather is a gift from God. What has made them docile to the Holy Spirit is that they have cultivated receptivity. Receptivity is a gentle art that takes time and patience. It can be learned, and often it is the result of deliberate attempts to listen to both God and neighbor.
As we cultivate a tender, receptive heart, we soon begin to discover the freedom offered in Jesus Christ. We become less reactive in the sense that we are prepared to receive whatever the moment has to offer. Receptivity cultivates in us a real watchfulness in which we are aware of our experiences and the experiences of others. Also, receptivity bears fruit in an intuitive sense of God’s presence throughout our day.
To cultivate this kind of heart, we must practice intentional listening. This means listening to God in meditation, particularly through lectio divina, and listening to others with curiosity and attention. The two are intrinsically interconnected. So let us make time to listen; time to listen to God and time to listen to our neighbor.