I don’t know how all of ya’ll’s 2017 has started out, I can tell you though mine has started with some serious heart revelation that I was not prepared for and to be on the level, it is wrecking me to the literally core of my heart. It started with this simple prayer, that I can genuinely tell you I am not 100% percent sure where it originated from. It was loud though, demanding to be prayed without understanding. As if my physically body was compelled to cry out for my heart no matter what my feelings could understand. Every morning for the last 30 days I have at some point sat and quietly breathed, “Lord, help me to become someone who listens to hear, and no longer listens to be heard.” I had always considered myself to be a fairly decent listener and friend, but as I began praying this prayer, I understood what I thought was not actually the possible truth. That instead my factual capacity to listen to people without forming a response in my mind, or already answering any question, was not as good as I have believed. I don’t know what change I was expecting to see with that prayer; well that isn’t 100% true… in the movie scene that played out in my mind all of a sudden I became someone was focused only on the words being spoken in the conversation. I would be this person who sat still and quiet, simply nodding, full engaged in what the other person was saying not just with their words but with their bodies and then I would respond beautifully with my own opinion after the appropriate amount of time. What I didn’t expect to comprehend is how much wanting to learn to listen to others would reveal a lack of identity within my own heart. That in order to be the person in that movie scene patiently and safely listening, I would need to look within the identity of my heart and see a gaping wound.
Prayer has many purposes, in this case, not only were my words a conversation starter between the Lord and I but it also drove the concept to the forefront of my every thought. I am now acutely aware of me with every conversation I start; am I listening, am I hearing…or just formulating my response. That awareness was like a hand pulling back the blanket of bravado so carefully placed over my heart. What I saw was not a spit-fire woman full of opinions formed bravely in safe places; instead there was fear. A roaring combination of loud words and restricted thoughts caught in the categories of right and wrong, good and bad, leaving me unable to hear a person from where they stood if it didn’t fit the safety of my restrictions. It shielded a tender void of identity. In all honesty it took me a moment to let the realization penetrate, and when it did, I found myself grieving…..it is possible that I have missed a lifetime of truly hearing the hearts of people I have loved, simply because I didn’t know who I was and I felt the need to defend that vulnerability. Grieved that I have missed out on true fruit of deep conversations steeped in differing opinions and experiences. I quite possibly have mis-understood precious friends experiences, their joys, their pains, their losses, and their victories because the lack of identity in my heart calls for protection and protection that looks like iron walls of ‘I am right’ and finite thoughts that forge a false sense of safety.
What happened was the more I listened without forming a thought in my mind, without tempering the words I was hearing with the “beliefs” of my heart, the more I silenced me, the louder fear became. It sounded like the ocean at night when the tide is rushing in, as the water pulls back and then silently builds up, then WHOSH….the wave comes, crashing on the shores. I had to ask myself, what is this fear crashing on the shores of my heart? Why am I afraid listening to another person? What about being silent makes me afraid of their opinions, their experiences, their beliefs? What do I believe I am giving up by simply listening with no immediate response? The Message Version of 1 John 4:18 says:
To Love, to Be Loved
17-18 God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us. This way, love has the run of the house, becomes at home and mature in us, so that we’re free of worry on Judgment Day—our standing in the world is identical with Christ’s. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life—fear of death, fear of judgment—is one not yet fully formed in love.
I had to dive into why fear was possibly crippling my conversations, stunting my ability to hear what someone was saying. I mean I love people, I love hearing about them, their lives, their experiences, yet here I was truly listening without forming a response and I was scared.
That’s when I saw it…..when I saw that void in my heart. When my finite thoughts and loud words were silenced by me, it was noticeable, like the rocks in the sand as the ocean water is pulling back from the shore preparing to build up. That void told me if my thoughts weren’t the same as another person’s thoughts, then mine weren’t valid. As a matter of fact that person’s thoughts/beliefs/experiences actually had the power to make me unimportant. The void, that lack of knowing who I am, that lack of identity, said you are not safe unless you are in agreement. I do not know if there is anything that is farther from the truth of who Jesus is, than that. His example of loving people was not one steeped in fear, unsure of who He was and his place in the world. Instead His example was of one who courageously stepped into the uncomfortable and loved. Who walked with those who opposed him, hated him, argued with him, and he loved. He met those broken emotionally, physically, wrought with sin, beliefs varying from his own, and He loved, unafraid. He was the champion of loving without fear….. the Lord of loving without fear.
As I sit today, processing this out on the pages of my computer screen, lifting up that blanket of bravado that has been over my heart, showing you the inner depths, all I can do is feel hopeful. Hopeful that in this vulnerability, my feet with find this path that Jesus paved, that my ears will continue to do more listening, that void will do less talking, and fear now exposed will slowly find its way out of my heart, as identity begins to seep in.
This forging friendship in appreciating people’s different experiences and beliefs isn’t not a black and white affair. It isn’t simple in its’ manner. It is messy, full of passionate emotions, probably many misunderstandings, a willingness to mature, to see your shortcomings, to see other’s shortcomings and embrace them in love anyway. It requires you to be comfortable with not knowing, and knowing that doesn’t change who you are. It calls you to ask questions, to search out the heart of the Father, and to see how your design (temperate, preferences, etc.) fit into each situation. It demands that you bury you head in his chest and find yourself in His eyes to see what He saw when He created you. When you can see what He saw, it is possible your feet have found their way to the path Jesus walked. The one where He loved unafraid.
This is a journey I am just beginning, a conversation I am just starting. I have more questions than I do answers, I feel insecure most of the time, and I feel more alive than I have felt in a long time. Standing here open wide, I am finally really listening