Stop, Look and Listen

Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.

Frederick Buechner

Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.  Photo by Austin Schmid (from

Cues and clues to life’s deeper meaning and purpose surround us in every moment. But it’s so easy to miss them. Human experience can be rich beyond comparison, but many of us settle for a spiritually impoverished existence. Every moment gives the opportunity to learn, to say thank you, to pray, to reach out and to reach in—if we will learn to see these. There is so much to explore, to understand, to consider that it can be overwhelming. To make the most of it we need to be equipped with an expectant attitude, trained with tools for mining the moments, and discipled by models that instruct and inspire us. That is the purpose of this blog. It is a spiritual journal for maximizing our experience of God in everyday life.

The starting point is to see the spiritual application of a lesson we learned from the earliest age about traffic safety: Stop, Look and Listen.


I love to travel and explore. I’ve visited over 25 countries for ministry and/ or vacation and have more on my list. And I’m even more fascinated by the inner geography of the heart and mind, what someone has called (I cannot find who), “the continents within us.” That’s why it is important to make time for exploring your inner life. Make space for God. I can think of nothing more essential for the cultivation of a rich, full experience of life. People pile up experiences but often fail to savor those experiences. When we stop, we pay attention. We give ourselves the gift of ceasing activity so we can explore the layers of life.

Have you ever been in the middle of an activity and suddenly realized: This is really special? It’s happened to me at family gatherings, in worship services, in meetings with special people, and in simple times of joy. Stopping may be for just a moment, or it may be at the end of a day—but learn how to take time to reflect.

I think this is especially important for parents. We live in a day when parents are very intentional about setting their children up for success. From preschool on, parents want to get the best teachers for their children and to involve their children in sports and clubs that will provide the best platforms for future progress. But what about a child’s inner life? What about a child’s soul? There are very, very few opportunities outside of a vital church fellowship where a child’s inner life can be nurtured. A starting point is helping them stop and ask questions like: Where is God in this moment? What am I thankful for right now? What am I learning right now—about God, myself, others, and the world around me? Where do I need help? Jesus takes the lives of our children very seriously. Jesus said, “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me” (Matthew 18:5, New Living Translation). I am so thankful for those who welcome children and help them stop so they can learn about God’s love and care.


Stopping does not mean the cessation of activity. It means a change of focus. That’s where our next step, “Look,” comes in. We make time to pay attention. Make time to look around; make time to look within. What am I feeling and thinking right now? Why am I reacting or responding in a particular way?

I am fascinated by black and white photographs. Of course there are wonderful color photographs and images. But there’s something also mesmerizing about black and white images. The work of Ansel Adams comes to mind. Adams said, “You don’t take a photograph; you make it.” He also said, “There are always two people in every photograph: the photographer and the viewer.”

In other words, we bring something to the photograph. That’s true of every experience we have. Life doesn’t happen around us. Life happens in us. And this is all the more important when we embrace the belief that we are spiritual-physical beings, created in God’s image to experience life as God’s special creations. As Psalm 8 says:

3 When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
   the moon and the stars you set in place—
4 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
   human beings that you should care for them?
5 Yet you made them only a little lower than God
   and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You gave them charge of everything you made,
   putting all things under their authority.

Psalm 8:3-6, New Living Translation

When we look, we take time to allow an image to form in our hearts and minds. We have the privilege of “freezing a moment” so that it can live on in a very special way. I have kept a spiritual journal for over 45 years. Each journal entry is like a photograph of my heart and mind and life at that moment. When I go back to read past entries (which is often called “harvesting” your journal), it’s like I’m back in the moment. And the practice of journaling has trained me to capture moments in nearly every day.


Even as we use multiple senses for traffic safety, we also use multiple means for spiritual vitality. I began this piece with a quote from Frederick Buechner, an American writer and theologian. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister and the author of more than thirty published books. He took a position as school minister at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire instituting a new, full-time religion department at the one of the oldest secondary schools in the United States. After nine years, he moved full-time to his farm on Rupert Mountain, Vermont. Here’s the full quote about listening to life.

I discovered that if you really keep your eye peeled to it and your ears open, if you really pay attention to it, even such a limited and limiting life as the one I was living on Rupert Mountain opened up onto extraordinary vistas. Taking your children to school and kissing your wife goodbye. Eating lunch with a friend. Trying to do a decent day’s work. Hearing the rain patter against the window. There is no event so commonplace but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him or not to recognize him, but all the more fascinatingly because of that, all the more compellingly and hauntingly…. If I were called upon to state in a few words the essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace. [Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (Harper SanFranciso, 1992), citing Now and Then, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983, pages 92, 87].

Buechner activates all the senses in bringing depth, fullness, richness to life’s moments. And, above all, we are always listening for grace, for that sense of God’s loving presence in the present.

I invite you to join me as I write this spiritual journal for maximizing our experience of God and our inner selves in everyday life. My goal is to equip us with an expectant attitude, train us with practical tools for mining the moments, and disciple us by providing models that instruct and inspire us.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Ephesians 3:20 New Living Translation