Why Taking the Time to Listen May be the Most Fruitful Way to Begin a New Year

beach-solitude

It’s the beginning of January, the season for all things self-improvement.

I spent the first Monday of the New Year not going to my exercise class and staying in my pajamas to bask in the quiet and solitude of an empty house. I set aside my work tasks, lit a candle at my desk, spent a bit of time with the words of Jesus, grabbed my journal, pen, and book and settled into the leather recliner beside my desk.

Enveloped by the quiet of my home and the stillness of January, I tried to remember the last time I’d afforded myself such luxury. I couldn’t remember.

Sometimes we don’t realize how hungry we are until we actually sit down at the table to eat. That’s how I felt, like a starving girl who’s waited too long for nourishment.

The demands of the fall semester depleted me more than I realized. When the holidays rolled around, a glad spirit was nowhere to be found. My soul, battered by the waves of stress, emotional turmoil, family busy-ness, and mind-numbing distraction, washed up on the shore of December and lay there in an exhausted, burned-out heap.

We didn’t travel over Christmas so it should have felt easier. I kept waiting for a grand infusion of holiday spirit.

Nothing.

It’s so easy to forget who we truly are at our core and therefore what we really need. In recent months I’ve chosen distraction over reflection. I’ve numbed so that I wouldn’t have to feel. I’ve used busy-ness and legitimate responsibility as excuses for not pursuing the life-giving disciplines of solitude and writing.

When we sit in stillness, we’re forced to reckon with that which comes to the surface. I had pain I didn’t want to stare in the face. So I’d stop by Goodwill. Or scroll through Instagram. I’d become increasingly impulsive and less intentional. And while that feels good and sometimes even momentarily life-giving, I suffered from low-grade frustration, shame, and resentment.

This is not how I want my life to look. 

We can say that about all sorts of things over which we have no control — illness, tragedy, job loss. But mine was a self-induced disappointment. It’s easier to have compassion toward ourselves when we’re victims of external forces; it’s harder to climb out of a pit that we’ve made for ourselves and settled into.

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tiny-coffee-cup

In the past, I’d have bootstrapped my way into short-term self-improvement. Books! Lists! Goals!

But I’m tired. And I’ve tried all of that. I know the answers and there’s nothing trendy or sexy about any of it.

Today means forgoing the gym and wearing yesterday’s mascara. It means acknowledging my weariness and my lack. It means looking at my mistakes across the recent months, feeling the pain I’ve tried to numb, taking inventory of my real self and my real life and just listening for a bit.

Honestly, I prefer actionable steps and instant success, obvious answers and best practices.

But those are not the ways of the soul.

I’m rereading Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer and I love what he says about how our soul responds to force:

The soul is like a wild animal — tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.

 

I spent the first weekday of January “sitting at the base of a tree,” so to speak. And the truth of who I am began to emerge with more clarity and familiarity than I expected, especially since we’ve been a bit estranged for a while.

With Parker’s language, I spent some time asking myself honest questions about the “truths I embody” and the “values I represent.” I reflected on what my right-now life is telling me {the good, the bad, the ugly} and how that may intersect with the gifts I too often compartmentalize.

I took the time to listen to my life — repenting of the ways I’d misspent my time and effort and acknowledging the life-giving practices I’d neglected.

And for the first time in many, many weeks, the spark of hope began to warm me from within, shining its light into my rhythms, my roles, my work, and my creativity.

I look forward to sharing some hope-filled ideas with you in the coming year. Too often we believe that our right-now roles and routines crowd out the life-giving pursuits that make our hearts sing. But I believe there’s always space for our gifts to walk around in unlikely seasons of life instead of sitting in a box until life issues a more timely invitation.

playmobil-cop

If this sounds like the encouragement you need, I invite you to join the conversation so you won’t miss a thing. Simply enter your e-mail address in the box at the end of this post and you’re all set.

In the meantime, give your weary mind and soul the gift of solitude. Schedule it if you have to. Hide in your closet while your kids watch a show or give yourself some space during nap time. Spend your lunch break in a quiet place without your phone. Resist the urge to immediately make lists and default to actionable responses.

Listen to your life.

God speaks to us through his Word and through creation, in prayer and in silence. But He also directs us through the unique ways He’s wired us to think, work, create, lead, and serve in the world. When we don’t acknowledge the nuances of who we are, we can overlook what we might offer to those around us.

If you feel like it, take some time to journal the thoughts and emotions that come to the surface. It may feel awkward at first. And you may be surprised by what shows up.

Here are some simple questions that may help to guide your listening:

  • What has caused undue weariness?
  • How have you numbed, avoided, and distracted?
  • How have you tried to live a life that’s not yours?
  • What parts of yourself have you kept hidden? Why?
  • What truths, values, and longings are at the heart of your identity?
  • In what ways do you want to live more authentically in the new year?

 

It takes courage to sit with who you really are. And it takes trust to receive your own life. In this new year, I pray that God will give you both.

May your brave listening give way to hope and renewal in 2017. I’m so glad to have you here.

 

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Resources you may find helpful:

bird journal

In a way this feels counterintuitive. After a post in which I’ve encouraged listening instead of action, I’m now giving you a list of sorts.

But here’s the thing. Sometimes certain books and practices become a helpful guide, giving me language and tools to excavate that which I often cover up with busy-ness, distraction, and the chaos of my own overthinking brain.

I’m picky about how a certain book or post makes me feel at the end. Do I feel guilty or inspired? Condemned or encouraged? All of these spoke truth and served as a helpful guide in ways that set me free and never felt preachy. Amen.

With that disclaimer out of the way, here you go:

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman

The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and Women’s Work by Kathleen Norris

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

“What’s on Your DON’T List?” {Free Hope*Writers Podcast}

This podcast is so freeing and helpful, even if you’re not a writer. I believe it’s fruitful for everyone to make a list of what you’re not going to do.

3 Gentle Ways to Review Your Life in the New Year, a blog post by Emily P. Freeman

The Book of John

This just happens to be what I’m studying this year. The beauty of God’s Word is that it’s alive and active. It speaks to my current questions and hardships. If often influences what I write. I’ve been amazed at the ways in which the words of John have helped me to live in the tension between my hopes and my reality, revitalizing the unseen, sacred work of my right-now life.

How to Pursue Your Hoped-For Work in the Midst of You

r Right-Now Life, a series

About a year ago, I began a post that turned into an 8-part series that explores how we can live responsibly in the right-now while not letting go of the hoped-for.


*Some affiliate links used. Thanks for your kind support of this little corner of the internet!

Keep Calm and Remove Some Lettuce: 5 Ways to Stay Merry & Bright This Holiday Season

merry-and-bright

I’ve already started making THE LISTS and decorating the house in my mind. I’m giving my calendar the evil eye and she’s giving it right back.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.

If I sound like Scrooge, rest assured, I LOVE this time of year. I love everything but the stress. {Much of which I bring on myself.} Somehow we have turned the holidays into an Olympic sport and I don’t want to resort to cupping just to get through the marathon of it. I want to savor it, to slow down, to sink into the comfort of my home and my people.

The overwhelm began to tap me on the shoulder last week. Instead of making more lists and running around restoring order, I decided to stop and think and write. This post began as a letter to myself but it turned into something for all of us.

If you want to savor this season instead of stressing your way through it, I hope that one or two of these permissions will help:

 

1. Don’t try to cram too much into a small space.

Here’s what right now begins to feel like if I’m not mindful: a fast food salad.

So many veggies are crammed into the plastic bowl that when you remove the lid, it’s like the lettuce is spring loaded. And if you want to add dressing and croutons and toss it up a bit? Well, I hope you enjoy eating your salad directly from the table and floor.

Fast food salads stress me out. They’re full of yummy things. But they’re crammed so full of good things, you can’t enjoy the actual salad.

Don’t be like Wendy’s, cramming an entire head of iceberg lettuce into an 8-ounce bowl.

If your to-do list feels out of control, it’s time to remove some lettuce.

If looking at your calendar makes you break out in hives, it’s time to remove some lettuce. Reschedule all possible appointments and coffee dates to January. Or later.

JOY

If finding all the perfect gifts brings on a migraine instead of joy, it’s time to remove some lettuce and find a simpler way.

The world doesn’t need the martyr version of you during the holidays. They need the relaxed version.

Repeat after me. “Lettuce stay sane this season.”

 

2. Don’t neglect what keeps you centered.

For me this means two things. {Three if you include coffee.}

1. I have to get my heart rate up and sweat a few times a week or I’m mean to the people I love and get even more anxious than I already am.

2. I have to eat spiritual food. This means me and God’s Word.

Sometimes — okay, often — I try to go without it because I’m “so busy” and I’ll get to it later. But this is like trying to get through the day or a series of days without eating actual food.

Going through my day without spiritual food is like slow starvation. I become a shell of who I really am. I’m malnourished. I’m misguided. I am figuratively nibbling on candy and junk and wondering why I feel terrible.

It’s taken me decades to realize this but God’s Word is my food. It keeps me anchored and nourished. And just like actual food, you have to get up the next day and eat again.

If this sounds like disciplined drudgery, let’s remember that food is awesome. Jesus tells us that He’s the “Bread of Life,” not the “Kale of Life.” {Hallelujah.} This means that time with Jesus can be a feast for your soul.

There are other practices that center me and reset my anxious spirit, like being in nature or finding a quiet place. But over time I’ve found that sweating out my anxiety and being with Jesus are the biggies.

MI walk

For you it may be yoga, baking, taking a walk, opening up a book, or locking yourself in the bathroom so that your body can have an actual break from tiny people touching you. I’m sorry I can’t stop them from yelling “Mommy” or sliding their fingers under the door. Maybe your centering thing right now is a babysitter in the middle of the day or a hefty dose of kids’ movies on Netflix.

 

3. Outsource and say “yes” to help.

Get someone to clean for you before the holiday season. Buy up a bunch of frozen pizzas, lasagnas, or burritos to make things easier. Give teachers gift cards or chip in for the class gift instead of coming up with something adorable {and time consuming} from Pinterest.

Buy the pre-made sugar cookies for your kids to decorate.

Order gifts online in your pajamas. Target is super fun but the traffic, the people, the end-caps with the holiday candles I can’t stop smelling — I’m just not mature enough to be there very much during the holidays. Also I have a teensy problem with road rage so it’s best that I stay home.

receive my life bracelet

My sanity means my family’s happiness. And my happiness too!

I can promise you this. Your people would rather have a fun-loving, even-tempered you instead of everything on their Christmas list. If this means a smaller holiday budget so that you can actually enjoy this season by ordering take-out and getting your house clean, well, I think that’s a happy trade-off.

And if your life stage or circumstances are more overwhelming than normal, I beg you to accept any and all help that is offered. Don’t let pride, shame, or self-sufficiency rob you and others of the gifts of grace, generosity, and mercy.

 

4. Honor your Sabbath.

Take a nap. Don’t cook. Or do if cooking is the thing that feeds your soul. Sink into a book or a movie. Linger over dinner and save the dishes until much later, after you’ve had a cup of tea and a slice of cake.

God doesn’t want us to rest from everyday work and rhythms because He demands our rest. He gave it to us as a gift. We don’t have to rest. We get to rest.

tea on the screen porch

Again, this looks different for all of us but it’s a gift I’ve begun to anticipate all week long.

Recently I instituted a break from all things digital {except movies because I’m not crazy} beginning Saturday evening until Monday morning. It was glorious. And weird. I had to fight the compulsion to check things — e-mail, social media, etc. That compulsion let me know that my brain and my spirit desperately needs regular breathing room.

Listen up all you weary souls, we need a real break from all the input. And from all the output. The end.

 

5. Remember the way of Jesus.

Recently I read two little verses in John 6 that I can’t stop thinking about. The people were all in a tizzy about their works. They crowded in around Jesus, fully expecting for Him to load them up with right answers and lists.

“What must we do to be doing the works of God?” they clamored.

Jesus replied  with a simple answer that surely bewildered them all.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s it.

Belief is the “work.”

We could unpack that a great deal. Because while belief is simple, it is not easy and it’s definitely not benign. But that’s not my point.

My point is this: The Jesus Way is always a simpler way. 

staircase

We load up our faith with lists and He tears them up.

We load up our salvation with works and He tells us that believing in Him is the work.

We load up our holidays with events and musts and comparison. He reminds us that He came into the world in the humblest of ways — as a helpless, human baby. I can’t think of a simpler way for the Savior of the World to make his entrance into the world.

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We’ll be prone to forget all of this in the coming weeks of busyness, me included. When that happens, simply come back — to your centering practices, to your rest, to your simpler ways, to Jesus.

We’ll all remove some lettuce and begin again.

As we sink into this week of giving thanks, please know how grateful I am for all of you who join me in this space. I get the feeling that you’re as weary as I am from all the “shoulds” and lists. I know that your right-now life is messy and that it feels like someone hit pause on your “hope.”

Let’s un-pause our hope together, shall we? Your right-now life holds unexpected gifts to unwrap. Let’s look for them. I’m so glad to have you along.

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How to Receive Your Own Summer Life

  pink flower

How’s your summer going? If that feels like a loaded question, this post is for you.

We think summer is all about freedom, but then we’re bothered because this lazy season doesn’t it take a break from comparison, envy, and unrealistic expectations. I know it’s not just me because occasionally I get out and talk to people.

We don’t all have community pools, live in idyllic neighborhoods, or pass the days on a family homestead dotted with gurgling brooks and bunnies. We may not have any accessible watering holes. We may not live in a neighborhood. We may have zero budget for vacations.

Summer can sure mess with our gratitude, especially when we’re bombarded with the realities of everyone else’s seemingly better summer. “Oh, you went to Belize? How lovely. We went to our local lake one day where I fished a used diaper, a Lunchables container, and the plastic part of a needle out of the murky water all in the same outing.” {True story from when my kids were little.}

I remind myself that one never knows the truth behind the Facebook or Instagram photos. Remember how our summer kicked off with a celebratory lunch turned complicated mess? I could have taken a super cute family selfie on said trip to Chick-Fil-A, all of us smiling as we launched Summer 2016 with ice cream and happy togetherness. You would have thought, “Those Vischers. Look how much they love each other.”

The real story is a sketchy parking lot on the way to Chick-Fil-A, peace negotiations within the confines of my minivan, and a mom who was so ticked off, she almost drove home and let everyone eat microwave popcorn for lunch. “Happy First Day of Summer Kids! Here’s some kernels coated with chemical butter to help you celebrate!”

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I’ve been writing and even speaking about this thing of “receiving your own life” for a long time. But lately I feel as though I’ve regressed all the way back to kindergarten. This makes me feel like a fraud. Also? It’s frustrating.

For my most recent birthday, a dear friend stamped these words on a bracelet for me: “Receive My Life.”

receive my life bracelet

She had no idea how much I’d need it this summer as I ache with invisible scars and fight for gratitude as though my life depends on it.

Because my life does depend on it. And so does yours.

In many ways, we’re having a great summer. We’re not getting a house ready to sell like Summer 2014. We’re not buying and selling a house like Summer 2015. We’re not sprinting after toddlers who can’t swim like Summers 2001-2012. My kids can feed and entertain themselves while I work from home. The guys have golfed a lot and my girl and I have watched Netflix together like it’s our job.

This summer provides enough commitment to keep us in a routine but enough downtime to sink into a lazier rhythm. Plus I have a screen porch.

It has been lovely in so many ways.

But beneath the lovely there is still junk. Plus a rogue arrow of envy that has come out of left field and pierced my heart something fierce. “Summer, why won’t you give me a two-month break from what ails me and leave me on my porch with house magazines and cold beverages?”

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But summer hasn’t given me a break from the brokenness of the world around me or the brokenness of the world within me.

Instead, summer gives me a choice: open my hands to receive it all as grace or keep my fists clenched, shaking them at God and others.

I don’t always make the right choice.

Here’s what I’m still learning the hard way. You can spend your seconds turned minutes turned years wishing for a life that isn’t yours, making yourself and everyone else miserable in the process. Or you can choose to receive the beauty, provision, and even heartache of your actual life. I have a million things to be grateful for. I simply forget. And so do you.

There are things we shouldn’t have to receive, situations that it’s okay to fight against. I’m not talking about being a doormat; I’m talking about accepting that which we can’t really change — the baggage, the fallout, the limitations, the people — as we walk the path of healing, acceptance, and possibility.

I make it sound easy but let’s be honest; it’s war. Every day my real life — with all of its brokenness, lack, fear, and questions — puts up a fight and goes to war with my contentment.

And so I fight.

exercise ball
  • Sometimes that means I avoid certain people and places on the internet. Because even though I know there’s no perfect, certain things are just too much for my fragile spirit.
  • Sometimes that means I pour all of the brokenness into a journal so that my mind and heart have more space to receive the everyday gifts.
  • Sometimes that means I scrawl out my edited thoughts in this online space, pressing publish and blowing words into the world like the seeds of a dandelion, hoping they’ll land in the meant-to-be places.
  • Sometimes that means I pray. And sometimes it means that others pray for me because I am fresh out of energy to articulate my lament.
  • Sometimes that means I stop what I’m doing and eat from the word of God. Otherwise I walk around spiritually anemic, wondering why I’m so cranky and angry without an ounce of perspective. “Oh yes, I’ve forgotten to eat. No wonder I’m thinking and talking and acting like a crazy person.”
  • Sometimes that means I simply keep living, doing the next thing and not letting the hard stuff of my own life or the envied goodness of others’ lives define me.

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This season invites me to slow down, to enjoy my people, to rest in the undone, and to make time for beauty.

sofa on screen porch

But as I’ve learned from prior seasons of rest — sometimes when we slow, the stuffed-down grief rises to the surface. It’s only June but summer is already reminding me {for the hundredth time} that life is a broken + beautiful mashup, that it’s okay to live in the tension because I’m not alone. I have Jesus, my friend who is no stranger to living in the tension. Jesus, who feasted with dearest friends one night while being led to his death soon after.

I tell him how I feel because He knows. I quit trying to fix broken things because I’m too tired and besides, that’s his job.

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This feels like a heavy post for summer. I wish I could share with you a fun recipe for fruity drinks or 10 Ways to Make This Your Best Summer Ever. But this is the true state of things and to give you anything else feels duplicitous.

Instead, I tell you that it’s okay to laugh with your friends one minute and cry into your iced coffee the next. To receive the slower pace while you also seek healing for wounds that won’t stop hurting.

In both fresh and familiar ways, this summer invites me to “receive my own life,” to etch hopeful patterns in my troubled mind and anxious spirit, even as I enjoy my kids and my porch and sleeping in.

Maybe summer is inviting you to do the same? To receive your own unique season of parenthood, your own summer plans {or lack thereof}, your own summer budget, your own real disappointments, your own real life.

And because I’m not going to Belize or doing anything impressive, I’ll be right beside you in all my ordinary, real-life glory.

you may also enjoy

When Life is a Broken + Beautiful Mashup

Choose Life, Even When It’s Falling Apart

When Summer Gives You Crazy and You Give It Right Back


 

I’m all about helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

If that sounds like something you need, sign up in the box below to receive fresh hope and possibility delivered to your inbox no more than a couple of times a week.

insta collage

{P.S. I’ll be hanging out on Instagram this summer. Join me?}