How many times during the week do you think that you spoke but were not heard? Depending on who you interact with - the number could be quite a lot!
And out of the number that heard you - how many actually listened to you and valued you what you said?
I recently had to go to a large chain store to pick up something for an upcoming worship service. I looked high and low and could not find the items I needed. So I asked a clerk - only to have her sigh and roll her eyes at me - until she realized they were all sold out of what I needed.
Beyond just being listened to and valued, there is another layer to listening called active listening. Where you know that person isn't just valuing you and your words but paying close attention. Not waiting for. a turn to jump in with their words, but treasuring yours.
Who is your life actively listens to you?
I recently had to travel a few days for work - putting hundreds of miles on the car. If I'm honest, I'm not a big fan of driving long distances - I do it because I have to, not because it is my favorite thing to do.
But, over those days, I spent hours listening to podcasts. Some which were new. Others that had been in my feed for months.
And so many of those podcasts sounded like they were having a conversation with me. Speaking right to my soul. Could I have listened to them sooner? Sure. But this - this was the right time.
What has been your experience of encountering something at just the right time and how did it speak to you?
I was recently in a scripture discussion group that opened up the Psalms to me in a whole new way. We were talking about how the poetry found within the book of Psalms may have been written by individuals but were communally expressed. That means that the Psalmist very well could have heard other people speaking, or singing their words back to them.
It was like something within me broke open.
I started to think of Hortiao Spafford, who penned the now famous hymn “It is Well with My Soul.” As the story goes, Spafford was to go on a trip with his family, but got delayed due to business dealings. He, however, did send his family on the trip ahead of him. Only the ship they were traveling on sank when it collided with another vessel, resulting in the death of all four of his daughters. While traveling to meet his grieving wife, the only member of his family surviving from the accident, he wrote the words that would become the hymn we know today.
While that story may be familiar to us, in light of our discussion about the Psalms, all I could think of was Spafford hearing the words of his hymn, penned in grief and faith, sung back over him, again and again and again.
And that broke me even further open.
For a long time, Western culture has tried to contain and privatize grief. You get a few days to plan and hold a funeral and then are expected to return back - to work, to business as usual, to all of your hustle and bustle. But that’s not how the human heart works. We need places to express our grief and have people sing it back over us. To hear our words expressed with compassion and held as true. We need to publicly proclaim our grief, while being tenderly held in community.
My guess is that idea makes many of us uncomfortable. We don’t like the idea of people knowing about our grief, let alone joining us in publicly proclaiming it. Yet, what gift could that offer to us, both as grievers and the wider community? What shame could be diminished and understanding expanded by joining together in breaking open the constraints we have culturally placed on grief? What is just waiting to be sung?
One of the things I was able to do on vacation was go on a nature hike sponsored by the Aquarium. We walked down the boardwalk that we have been visiting for over a decade every year and learned that the area where we were staying was one of only four eco-systems of its nature in the United States at this time. My mom aptly pointed out that in all of our walking and exploring over the years, we never even knew that little piece of beautiful forest existed.
Something similar happened as new animals were pointed out to us in the water as well as explanations for what animals could best be found where. All of a sudden, we went from seeing one or two animals over the week to more than we can count.
It reminds me of the spiritual journey. We can be doing well on our own - but when someone else comes alongside us and starts to point out different things in a new way, all of a sudden it can be like an awakening of sorts. We can see things from a different perspective that were present with us all along.
Who walks with you on your spiritual journey and how have they impacted the way you see your life in the Spirit?
I was visiting a church a few weeks ago, sitting way in the back, when someone a few rows ahead of me came up after the service and asked if I sang. I mean I like to sing, but I wouldn’t consider myself a singer. Which she interrupted with praises.
Now, I share this not because of my vocal abilities. I share it because I don’t consider myself a singer because way back when I was in 6th and 7th grades, it was drilled into my head that I wasn’t a singer by two adults in my life - one at school and one in church. So now it is really hard for me to sing - or hear comments about my singing.
Vocationally, I’ve confronted part of that - as I’ve sang at funeral homes and at the bedsides of congregation members. But the praise part, well, that I’m still wrestling with.
All of us have stuff. Things that were said to us when we were small that have effected how we see ourselves, the world, and God. And that’s part of what we bring to spiritual direction. All of the stuff. Stuff that maybe we have let seep into our bones and others that we have wrestled with in our heads and hearts. Because spiritual direction is a scared space where we don’t check part of ourselves or part of our formation at the door, but instead come and explore all that stuff with someone who cares for us in the light and truth of the Spirit.
Michelle is a Spiritual Director and End of Life Doula. She is the founder of Abide in the Spirit.
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