What is more important to a speaker than a listener who responds?

Absolutely nothing.

This answer applies whether one is speaking to just one person, an audience, or to God. We want a response. We want to know we have been heard.

But a human response or answered prayer does not always fit our criteria.

At my first Toastmasters Convention, I was so fired up by this wonderful organization that I collared Neil Wilkinson of Edmonton, Alberta, a 20-year member who was president of Toastmasters International in 1993, and told him I wanted a bumper sticker that said, “I Get High on Toastmasters.”

Now, Mr. Wilkinson is a reserved man and although he paid total attention to me as I enthusiastically praised Toastmasters, he did not give me the response I expected. (His face did not light up.)

Finally I turned away to leave, but Mr. Wilkinson called me back. With the same lack of expression on his face, he said, “You’ve made me feel so good. Would you give me a hug?”

I fairly fainted. Then I flew into his arms and gave him one of my best hugs.

When he hadn’t responded in a manner that I recognized, I thought that there was no response, that he hadn’t heard me, that what I said hadn’t been important enough to move him. When he responded in a way that I recognized, I was thrilled to learn there had been real contact between us.

I’ve gone through the same experience with God many times, the most memorable of which occurred while I was living in a vacant church in Nova Scotia.

My husband and I had raised registered Hereford cattle in the beautiful Annapolis Valley for five years. Those years were the best years of my life, and although I only weighed 104 lbs, I was a driven workaholic looking after the cattle, the farm, cutting pulpwood, whatever it took to keep my dream alive.

The best years of my life ended when my husband moved to Halifax with another woman.

I had continued to look after the 60 head of cattle and harvest my forest on my 600 acres, but I was finally forced – by lack of money – to give up. (I learned later that all across North America, the cattle bust was known as the Crash of ’75. It wasn’t just me alone who lost my cattle, but it felt like it.)

I could have moved in with my parents, but I wanted solitude to try to sort out my life. I made a deal with the trustees of an abandoned Baptist church that I would paint the outside of the church in lieu of paying rent. The building had no water or heat or plumbing, but it was a good place for me to reach out to God in my agony over my losses.

I slept in the upstairs balcony and at night the moonlight shone through the six arched windows and I lay in my bed and wept. One night I cried out to God, “It’s not enough to just believe You love me. I need You to put Your arms around me and tell me that You love me.”

Of course, there was no response, no miracle. The moon was soon hidden by clouds and I was in darkness.

Shortly thereafter, the church I attended announced a women’s retreat would be held soon. My mother encouraged me to go. I angrily retorted that I had nothing in common with women who could talk about nothing but scrubbing floors and raising babies.

But I was desperate and I went to that Retreat. As the weekend wore on, I realized there was depth in the 72 women attending, and that they also did soul searching.

Towards the end of the Retreat, I walked up to the front of the room and leaned against the piano and started to talk. I told the women how tough I was, how I could carry 100-lb. calves in my arms, cut pulpwood like a man and castrate bulls. But that my husband had left me, I had lost my beloved farm, and now I needed their prayers to help me work out a new life.

As I finished speaking, all 72 women stood as one and lined up to get to me. Not only did they all say that they would pray for me, but each and every one of them put their arms around me and said that they loved me. And the sunlight streamed in the windows of that Retreat hall – like the Holy Spirit was hovering there.

Later that night, as I lay in my bed in the abandoned church that was my home, I thanked God for that tremendous outpouring of love that been given to me by women, whom I normally avoided. And then it hit me! I hadn’t asked those women to tell me that they loved and put their arms around me. I had asked that of God weeks previous.

And God had answered my prayer – 72-fold, and from a source I would never have expected.

That response, which did not fit my criteria, made an impression on me that will last my whole life.

The lesson is to let the giver give what he has to give. It may be much less than you want, but it also may be a great deal more than you expect.