Traditionally, I haven't been so good at accepting criticism. I get defensive, which leads to getting irritated, which leads to saying or doing things I shouldn't, which leads to the Dark Side. So the trick to my own personal growth, for a while now, has been all about avoiding the path to becoming Kev Vader, and keeping an open mind and a willing heart.
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I've written a lot of my best work at Starbucks and Barnes & Noble. I get inspired by rows of books and gallons of coffee. When I'm winding down and feeling the drag of pushing through for another thousand words or so, I can get up and wander and pick things up and get all jazzed, and then get back to work. Assuming my seat wasn't taken while I was gone.
I love it. But I have to confess — I think I love my home office more.
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I recently came to the realization that I haven’t been listening.
I think my wife could probably give you reams of evidence to that effect, as could a few hundred teachers, professors, former bosses, fellow employees and maybe a tour guide or two. Listening and heeding have always been difficult for me.
But aside from my tendency toward selective spousal deafness, non-conformity and a general and ill-advised contempt for authority, I have other listening issues. For starters, I haven’t been very good about listening to God. And He’s been practically screaming at me for 39 years, so you’d figure I would have gotten he message before now.
My relationship with God isn’t bad. But I say that in the same way someone might say that the grilled fish at a particular restaurant isn’t bad, or that the drive from Midtown to home isn’t bad, or that the new album by One Republic isn’t bad. These are all non-committal, flat statements. Was the fish delicious? Does the drive provide quality time on my way home from work? Do the lyrics on One Republic’s album speak to me and move me?
There’s a nuance to life, and to our relationship with God, that goes beyond this kind of flat acknowledgement of the relationship. To say “me and God are good” is too vague and wholly inadequate. And really, in the end, doesn’t that mean that we aren’t good at all?
For the past few weeks, I’ve been confronted with my relationship with God. What I always thought of as a nice, in-reserve relationship with occasional spiritual highlights has suddenly sprung upward in my levels of attention, and is demanding immediate care. A recent “long, dark night of the soul” has brought me to a new place in that relationship, and has caused me to rethink my role in God’s plan. And I’ve noticed, for the first time, that He has been sending me e-mails, text messages, smoke signals, skywriting, marquee signs, postcards and billboards for years now. I never got the message.
Have you ever wondered what your purpose in life is? I haven’t. Not really. I mean, I have had the same existential questioning in my heart that everyone has (I think … does everyone obsesses about this?), but I more or less reasoned that my purpose in life was whatever I ended up doing with my days. That’s unfortunate, because when you think that way you inevitably end up spending your days drifting drone-like from one “opportunity” to another.
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
“If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?”
If you have no goal you have no target.
So I’ve started wondering about my purpose in life, and that has caused all sorts of existential angst and spiritual longing. Which, I believe, is the exact opposite of the point that God is trying to make with me. I think the point comes down to this one, simple command:
Drat. Listening. My one weakness.
I’m the guy who goes on about everything. I’m the guy who recently learned that all those years ago, as I was helping my friend David and his grandfather Leroy with their side job of moving dirt at the cemetery, I was deemed to be a chatterbox. I would, apparently, just go on and on about anything and everything. I was a talker, and I was tolerated.
I’m the guy who loves to jump into any and every conversation with whatever bit of knowledge and wisdom I possess on the subject.
I’m the guy who likes speaking in public because it means people are listening to me … on purpose.
I’m the guy who loves to communicate. I talk, I write, I post status updates on every known social media network. I strain so hard to have my ideas heard that I forget, quite frequently, that there are other ideas to hear.
And maybe, unfortunately, some of those are ideas I just don’t want to hear. I don’t really want them in my brain, mucking about, causing worry and anxiety. So I shut them out quickly and move on. I substitute something else for them in the tape that runs in my memory. I choose to hear something that wasn’t said. Maybe. I’m not clear on that, because if it does happen then I’m clearly not paying attention, am I?
Listening is hard. I haven’t got a clue how to master it. I try to focus. I try to open my heart. I try to clear my mind. I try to remove all influence of my brain on the situation and just … listen.
I have no clue how to do this.
I know God is saying something. I can hear it, like snatches of shouted conversation competing with crowd noise. But I can’t keep my brain on it, apparently. I can’t force myself to strain to hear it.
It’s a real problem, and I haven’t yet come up with the best solution. So all I can think to do is to keep trying. I’ve started reading more in books and websites about God, Christ, God’s will for our lives and whatever else I can come up with. I’m reading guys like Max Lucado. I’m reading articles in Christianity Today. I’m attending church services for the first time in years, and I’m having open conversations with friends and family about God. Kara and I have a more open dialog about God today than at any other point in our marriage.
And yet …
I still don’t feel it. I still don’t know anything. I feel like I need some sort of sign, some sort of sure mark. But I think what I’m really looking for is a sign that I am being heard … which is kind of the opposite of listening.
Well, I don’t exactly know how to solve that yet, but I’ll work on it. Of course, I’m always open to advice. I’ll keep reading and looking. “Seek and ye shall find,” right? I’ll seek. So, by extension, I’ll find. And, in the meantime, if anyone has any advice for a terribly poor listener I am all ears.
Wow … I really just wrote that.