This story is so familiar that it's hard to hear. Like Samuel, I hear the literal words, but they don't necessarily lead me where I need to be led, because I think I already know. Samuel keeps running back to Eli; I keep running back to all my old assumptions about what it looks like to serve God.
This Sunday I heard something new. I noticed -- why did I never notice before? -- that "Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him." That's funny. He's been living with Eli the priest since his weaning. He was "lying down in the temple, where the ark of God was," and yet he "did not yet know the Lord," because "...the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him." He didn't just soak it up? Even if, "The word of the Lord was rare in those days [and] visions were not widespread," you'd think that living in the temple, Samuel would have picked up on what was what. Didn't Eli fill him in?
Eli seems to see what's going on even though his "eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see." Once he wakes up enough to realize what's going on, he tells Samuel right away what to do: Listen.
But no. Samuel doesn't know what's going on until Eli tells him. But then Samuel immediately does what Eli tells him to do.
That got me to thinking. God knows he's got a plan for Samuel. Hannah has promised God her son and followed through by turning him over to Eli. God's got Samuel where he will need him, but then God waits. And I imagine Eli was waiting too, on God.
Then, suddenly, God determines that it's time, and he calls out to Samuel. But Samuel doesn't know what to do... Or does he? He runs to Eli again and again, because that is his duty. He serves Eli, or so he believes. But in serving Eli, he is being prepared to serve God.
I imagine Samuel's temple work was thankless -- lost to his doting mother, his horse hitched to this old man's wagon. Read a little of Leviticus or Deuteronomy and remember how bloody things were around the temple. I expect Samuel did a lot of the dirty -- and I mean dirty -- work.
Being steeped in church or religion isn't enough, although I've often wanted it to be. I've thought, If I could just devote all my time to churchy stuff, then I'd be really serving God.
Instead, God has called me to do the dirty work. It can be pretty dirty too, sometimes blood or other bodily fluids flowing from a child or a pet. More often my dirt is just dirt -- on mountains of dishes and heaps of clothes and floors and toilets and sinks. Maybe here, in the dirt I am just where God wants me, so when he calls, I can run to my duty and be led to listen.