I call myself a good listener, but it’s not usually my default position, like, ever. Sure, I open my ears up to hear what the other person is actually saying. Sometimes I clamp my hand over my mouth so I don’t interrupt a drawn out story of surprising lament, but really, I’m just waiting – waiting for my turn to talk, waiting for the brilliance within to come alive through vocal chords.
“Boys, when Mama says it’s time to go, you need to be good listeners and do what I say the first time!” Exclamation points dot my words, but this is not a two-way conversation: this train is one-way ticket bound for the respect of Thou Art Mother Figure. When Canon, my five-year old, tries to interject my soliloquy with a reason for his actions, I dismiss him. This conversation is mine and mine alone. Don’t try and turn this into a real dialogue with two or more people, buddy.
Sure, parents deserve an ounce of respect from their children, or so the Sunday school flannel board instructed me to do in the second grade. But truthfully, the irritability I exude towards my son is not actually about the respect I deserve, but it’s about an irritability that rumbles around in my soul. I’ve taken on too much. I’m too stressed out. I have too much on my plate, and when my world feels like it’s out of control, I take out my frustrations on those closest to me. Demanding respect, I forget to enter into the ministry of listening.
Last month, I finished the first draft of my manuscript. I let out a holler and did a little leap in the air, legs surrendering to the intense exercise my fingers had been doing for the previous five months. Then, as often happens over the holiday season, I took a break from work and from writing in general. I cozied up by the twinkly lights of the Christmas tree and read real, actual paperback books. I played no less than seventy-five games of Uno, I dirtied the kitchen floor with red and green sprinkles, I ate crab and bread and butter with my extended family. And I didn’t crack open my laptop to write, because there wasn’t a need – all I needed to do was simply enter into the present with the people around me.
But a funny thing happened along the way: in the stillness and in the silence, God squeezed in. So used to all the shouting and loudness, I didn’t recognize the whispers at first. I had become “…deaf to the smaller signals of trouble and able to listen only when the arms were percussive and loud,” as Emilie Griffin, one of my favorite contemplative writers, says in Small Surrenders. But then, as often happens in quiet, when our souls and our bodies and our minds are at rest, I heard the voice again.
Give it away. What?
Give it away. Huh?
Give it away. Who me?
Give it away, give it away, give it away now. The phrase could mean a thousand different things, an invitation to head in a number of directions or to rap lyrics from early 90s Red Hot Chili Peppers albums, my choice. But the first step was concrete and obvious: in the many moments of irritability, during those scenes of not listening that painted the landscape of my interactions, I clung to the hope of being it all and doing it all. I thought about the deadlines on my plate, about the many good places that entrusted me with my words.
And I thought about my fear of not being published, of not seeing my name in print. I thought about how I’d begun to believe that if I didn’t blog “X” number of times a week, if I didn’t give away my words to places like The Mudroom and She Loves Magazine, if I didn’t increase my social media numbers on all the different platforms, if I didn’t pitch to paying publications, if I didn’t write a New York Times best-selling book, if I didn’t, if I didn’t, if I didn’t….
Then I wouldn’t be successful. And if I wasn’t successful, I would be forgotten, an insignificant reminder of a once hustle-worthy woman.
But this falsity is no way to live.
So, in this listening, I surrender to the first act of giving it away: I turned in my resignation e-mail to The Mudroom and She Loves Magazine. It’s time for me to say good-bye to this community. Just as you gave me the chance to write and a place to wrestle with my words, it’s time for someone else to have that chance. It’s time for me to give it away. My heart thumped distractedly within my chest when I hit “send.” A small part of me wondered if I made a mistake, if those carefully crafted messages were altogether a mistake.
But a bigger, louder, calmer part of me knows I made the right decision, maybe because I actually listened to the voice within.
Friends, thank you for giving me a space to explore the real, messy, holy stories of life. Thank you for leaving comments and for cheering me on and for providing a space for my writing and my heart to learn and grow. I’m so grateful for all of you. Let’s keep in touch via my blog, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.