Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." - 1 Samuel 3:9-10
I recently heard that a childhood family friend, Sister Rosemary, died. My brothers and I always said "Rosemary is cool." I'm not sure why we talked about her this way, because really she was the opposite of cool. She was sensible and kind and her eyes crinkled when she laughed.
When I was thirteen, I went to spend the night at her apartment one time. My brothers and I usually ran in a pack, so I'm not sure why I was staying there alone. Whatever the reason, before we went to sleep, we sat on her hard little couch and held hands to pray. Or rather, Rosemary prayed and I sat there feeling self-conscious.
"Thank you, Jennifer," she said when she was done speaking, "You have a beautiful spirit and it's wonderful to pray with you." Then we went to sleep.
I hadn't prayed at all. I thought that made me a faker and probably a bad person. I hadn't yet learned what Sister Rosemary knew, that none of us are all one thing and that inside of that awkward, anxious teenager on her couch was also a beautiful soul, someone with whom it was a joy to pray.
It was years before I knew this, and many more years before I really understood it. In the story of Samuel and Eli, Samuel is led to clarity about God's voice immediately - perhaps that same night. It is not so for me. Seeds that were planted decades ago are only just now blossoming. Whether fast or slow, the story of Sister Rosemary reminds me that eventually, no matter how long it takes, the voice of God will catch up with me.
Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. Amen.
Jennifer Brownell is the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Vancouver, Washington, and the author of Swim, Ride, Run, Breathe: How I Lost a Triathlon and Caught My Breath, her inspiring memoir.