His name was Samuel. A child who heard his master calling him in the middle of the night.


He was a good, obedient boy, and he responded with alacrity. But his master kept telling him, “Go back to bed. I didn’t call you.” The third time it happened, Eli finally clued into the truth: Samuel was hearing his true Master. He told his young charge to answer, “Speak, Lord. I’m listening.”


As I listened to this story this morning at church, it struck me that it could only happen to a child. I think about the way Alex views the world—everything is new to him. He doesn’t recognize the conventions, the connections. That’s what early childhood is—learning the connections. Sun, moon. Lightning, thunder. Parent, teacher. Authority—love.


Samuel was too young to understand what was happening. He heard a voice of love and authority, and connected it with the only such voice he knew to be nearby. Before that night, I’m sure he knew about God, but he never knew God. Like all children, his understanding was grounded in the concrete. Sometimes Alex wakes up in the morning and tells me that our next door neighbor did or said such-and-such during the night. He doesn’t understand the concept of dreams yet, much less the idea that God can speak to us through them.


That concept is hard for adults to grasp, too. But I do believe that God speaks in dreams. How else can I explain waking up in the middle of the night with a seed of a melody, or a fragment of text, running laps around my brain?


The beautiful thing about a child, though, is that he doesn’t wait to understand what’s happening. He doesn’t hold himself back and groan, “Oh, I’m too tired. Just tell me in the morning.” Well…kids do that to parents all the time. But there’s something compelling about those kinds of dreams. So Samuel accepts with complete trust what is happening. He hops up and responds to the voice in the only way he knows how.


But what I wonder is what he heard after he said, “Speak, Lord—I’m listening!”