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!

Comments

  1. Joan Rampey says

    This is simply exquisite, both in the telling and in what is being told. Thank you for each beautiful, significant word, dear Marian.

  2. says

    I feel like we walk twin journeys in our similar stages.
    I resonated with so much of this. My word of the year is WAIT because I am all the action and all the steps and all the goals and simply need to sit and listen, content and waiting.

    • says

      Aimee, thanks for joining the conversation. Yes, we are very much in the “middle” of these mothering years aren’t we? It’s nice to be reminded {by others} that waiting can be such a fruitful thing.

  3. says

    “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.”

    That lit a fire.

    • says

      Steph, I’m SO glad to hear that. It lights a fire in me too and it’s a topic I’m going to continue to explore here on the blog this year. I hope you’ll join us! Thanks for your chiming in. : )

  4. Susan says

    Boy this rings true with me. I came to you through Emily Freeman. You both have reached me this January with a fresh look and hope for the coming year. My word this year is “still”. I plan to “sit at the base of the tree” more this year to gather thoughts and feelings. Have never journaled but might be the year to start.

    Thank you ~

  5. says

    Dear Marian,

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your words are exactly what I needed to hear today. I started with the current post and ended up spending a couple of hours reading all of your previous posts about hoped for work vs everyday work. Your wisdom has comforted me, given me fresh hope and an incresed determination to keep painting, keep trying even when i feel like giving up. I am grateful that you manage to carve out precious time in your life to add to the quality of mine and others like me. God bless x

    • says

      Karen, that brings such joy and gratitude to my heart to hear that. I’m so glad these words have encouraged you to keep on. Thanks for being here!

  6. says

    I’m almost finished with Essentialism and read it paired with A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. A perfect New Years cocktail of literature. Tonight I landed here via Emily Freeman and know it’s God confirming, through you, where he’s leading me. 💗

    • says

      That’s a good book pairing for sure! I read A Million Miles a long time ago and it has made me think differently about my life as story ever since. Glad to have you here!

  7. says

    Thanks so much for these thoughts – loved reading this post!! I copied a few sentences into my journal to keep, and think on. Like you, I feel it is so very important to take time to pause, and to listen … (visiting via Emily Freeman’s post)

  8. says

    So glad that Emily Freeman’s post led me to your site, Marian! Your ideas of how we should view life seem both encouraging and appealing (and real)! I agree with your assessment of how we just need to find (or make!) some time for solitude, in order to hear our own hearts, as well as listen to what God might be trying to say to us.

    Your different series of posts seem like something I’d really like to read!

    Thanks for writing from “real” life as well as from the heart.

  9. says

    Hi Marian, I loved reading your post and am planning to share it with the Sabbath Society this week, a growing online community of people who long to make rest realistic and not just miraculous. I wrote a book called Rhythms of Rest and would love to have you join the community. Perhaps it would be an encouragement to you this year.

    • says

      Shelly, thank you SO much! What an honor. Your book is one I am planning to read this year and I have loved following your beautiful photos and experiences on Instagram the last couple of months. Thank you for being a “rest evangelist.” I desperately need it. : )

      • says

        I prefer haned-dsigned embroidery rather than following a premade design or pattern. I draw anything and everything that comes to mind and what I love most is that they’re designs that probably nobody else has created. It’s unique to itself and not premade or replicated. <3

      • says

        Maggie, it sounds as if you came away with some great insight and even more excitement about how to expand technology in the every ECE classroom (one can hope and dream). I enjoyed reading your helpful tips. Especially the one about reflection. What an important tool to incorporate. Thanks for the post__quite resourceful, as always.

  10. says

    What’s up,I check your blog named “Why Taking the Time to Listen May be the Most Fruitful Way to Begin a New Year” like every week.Your humoristic style is awesome, keep it up! And you can look our website about proxy server list.

  11. says

    I have experienced the same thing, and in regards to Dr. Burgo’s reply about one step forward, two steps back, I would add that for me too just the one step forward is consoling because while two steps back can be diopipsintang, that one step in the right direction is hopefully laying the groundwork for more progress.

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