What is your relationship with words like? Mine is complicated. Always has been.
Though there is no shortage of words in my head, I’d never be classified as a talker. I’m not shy, not even a smidge, but I’m also perfectly happy by myself, talking to no one. (I call myself a “well-socialized introvert.”) I can easily be the connector pulling conversation together or provoking it further, but I can just as easily slip into the observer role, sitting back to let someone more charismatic or extroverted take the lead.
Give me one of my passion topics and I’ll have Words, oh yes I will. But these days it seems my own personal hot topics are all over the media and facebook and the thought of trying to add to that conversation is overwhelmingly nauseating. It’s so noisy and unproductive already.
I remember hearing that religion, politics, and parenting have always been considered taboo topics for polite conversation. Interesting that the three things I love to talk about most are theology, politics, and parenting. Am I doomed? I suppose I’m simply grateful that I was born in 1977 and came of age in a new millennia where these topics are somewhat normal—at least accepted—conversation. (Unless you’re on facebook of course, and then they get awkward and inflammatory really fast.)
So how do we talk about the things important to us without sounding like schmucks? This is a question we should all be considering—I certainly am. And perhaps that’s why I’ve gone a little quiet in this space.
Growing up, people always made sure I was well aware that I have strong opinions. And I do. Sometimes it’s pegged as being ‘opinionated’ and other times it’s lauded as having ‘strong faith’ or ‘personal conviction’ or something else equally palatable.
Do you know Strengthsfinder? (It’s a study on strengths-based leadership.) One of my top five strengths is ‘belief’ and a truer description of my makeup and motivation there has never been. I have a wildly strong sense of justice, which can lead to much good if channeled well, or much destruction if left unchecked.
Ryan often teases me saying, “And what do you really think, Adriel?” after I’ve given some passionate discourse from the living room couch after watching a news piece or reading an article that strikes a nerve. Sometimes in tears I rail against the injustice of it all, taking each offense (real or perceived) very deeply and personally. My husband and I dance around this little drill (smiling) and almost without fail I respond with, “If you had any idea how many of my opinions and beliefs I hold back or keep to myself… you’d have nothing to tease me about.” And truly, this is the case. I have learned to bite my tongue (not that I always get it right—I still flounder loosely at times), but no one will ever understand the fullness of how much I censor myself unless a way is created allowing others to crawl into the internal passages in my brain and hear what actually goes on in there. Compared to the battering of ideas and beliefs and questions inside my head, what comes through my lips is mild and infrequent.
How often did Jesus say, “If you have ears to hear…” and go on to describe the kingdom of heaven in metaphor and parable? I don’t actually know the answer to that question but I know the tally would be somewhere around: a lot. My point is he was often exhorting his followers to listen up. Listening doesn’t come at the exclusion of talking, but more often than not it should precede it.
God himself is an incredible listener.
When I first came to my adult faith it was through a radical encounter I describe as my own personal “Damascus Experience.” For years I had run hard in the opposite direction to God and was in no place or position of heart to hear from him. I had well and truly tuned him out of my life. But one night I went to watch my friend sing in her coffee house band and as I listened to the heaven music a thought bulleted through my mind: I wish I knew the words so I could sing along.
Immediately The Voice said to me, “I don’t want you to sing along, I just want you to talk to me. Come home, it’s been too long.” It was the most normal, familiar, unholy voice I had ever heard.
I turned around to see who was speaking to me and the closest person was eight feet behind me on a couch, eyes closed and hands thrust into the air. Right there in all my disbelief I knew that I had just heard words from heaven. Words from heaven in my actual ears… even when I thought I wasn’t listening, The Voice somehow broke through as naturally as a mother scooping up her distraught child. The Voice I heard that night was Jesus and was as real and as plain as the otherworldly wonder that simultaneously filled my insides.
God invited me to talk to him. He put himself in the position of listener and it was out of that place where I discovered not only how to release my own words to him, but how hearing had made a way. God’s invitation and his offer to listen to me made a way for me to listen to him.
And isn’t that always the way? As we put ourselves in a place of humility, openness, and a deliberate separation from judgment and agenda, we find ourselves in a place where we can not only listen but hear.
When I read the headlines about war, guns and shootings, marriage equality, abortion, police brutality, genocide, trafficking, racism, the refugee/IDP/asylum seeker crisis, inequality on a thousand levels… my insides churn and my brain wants to explode with All The Words that come from All The Feels. And yet my Jesus taught me to listen first, and then speak. That’s what I’m trying to do. (Oh goodness, it’s hard.)
It doesn’t mean my opinions cease. It doesn’t mean my thought process gets put on hold. It doesn’t mean the past doesn’t play into the future. But it does mean that I open myself up to hearing another story—a story that just might help inform my present and my future. If story doesn’t forge a way for us to better understand the world, the “other,” God, and even ourselves. . . then I don’t know what will.
What would our twitter and facebook feeds look and sound and feel like if we got a little better at listening? That’s the question I’m asking myself these days.
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