The first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is also the most important. For the monk, it represents the focus of the spiritual life: listening to God. Everything a monk does—from the way he eats and sleeps to the way he works and prays—is designed to help him learn how to listen.
“Are you listening to me?” “Can’t you hear what I’m trying to say?” People use these expressions all the time when they are arguing. Just think how many problems would be solved if they really did just listen to one another. A wise old monk once told me that I should never answer a complaint without repeating it back to the person who made it. Why? Because it assures them that I am listening. You can’t force people to listen to you, but you’d be surprised how open they are once they’re convinced that you are listening to them.
The monk’s life, however, is not so much about listening to other people as it is about listening to God. And that’s even more difficult. Why? Because God is a gentleman. He speaks very, very quietly, and he rarely forces anyone to listen to Him. So if we’re not vigilant, we can easily mistake some other voice—or even our own voice—for His. This is why it’s so important to share your spiritual journey with someone older and wiser—a parent, or a priest, or a spiritual mentor who can help you to distinguish the true voice of God from the many imposters who want to take His place.
I’ll leave you with something else that same monk told me: when you meet a wise man, listen to him and you will learn wisdom; when you meet a foolish man, listen to him and you will learn patience; when you are alone, listen to God, and you’ll learn everything else.