So You Want to Be a Better Listener

I cried through communion yesterday and I still don’t know why. Instead of falling into the  pattern of feeling either apologetic about my tears or grasping for a way to explain them to myself, I’m learning to embrace this sometimes oddly timed emotion and allow it to simply be. Everything doesn’t need an explanation.

emily p freeman

While I think it’s important to listen to our tears, that doesn’t always mean we’ll get a diagnosis. I chose instead to let them fall, took the bread and the cup and thought about the kingdom of heaven.

“Jesus promises us the kingdom of heaven: more compassion, more, love, more spirit, more mercy, more justice, more courage, more surprise. Everything but more money. The regular practice of Communion is meant to help move us from being the citizens of an empire to the citizens of heaven.”

Nora Gallagher, The Sacred Meal: The Ancient Practices Series

Being a citizen of heaven means living upside down. We already know the first are last, the last are first. The rich are poor, the poor are rich. The strong are weak, the weak are strong.

Maybe being a citizen of heaven also sometimes means the talkers will learn to listen. Maybe I’m making that up.

I wrote about listening at (in)courage this weekend because I believe good listeners can change the world. I know this because they’ve changed mine.

Communion is a kind of listening. We may come to the table distracted and bustling on the inside, but the elements remind us of a different way to live, offering a different kind of food that comes from another land, the original comfort food.

We eat and drink and remember Christ, not just who he was on earth but who he is within us today – stumbling through Monday, jotting down the grocery list, planning out the week. More importantly, Monday brings the opportunity again to see people and to listen to them. Do we really know how to do that?

Communion is a reminder that God hears us and came down to be with us. The company of Jesus is stunning, really. How can we offer his company to others? The simplest (and also the the hardest) way I can think of is to learn to listen without an agenda.

Want some good books on listening? I have a library of them. Here are three I highly recommend, using affiliate links because that’s just good business:

Listen In: Building Faith and Friendship Through Conversations That Matter // My friend Rachael Crabb and her two friends Sonya Reeder and Diana Calvin wrote this one together. As a woman who is emotionally allergic to small talk, I deeply appreciate this book. It’s a real-life example of what can happen when friends ask curious questions and cast a hopeful vision. I want to be the kind of friend that Rachael, Sonya and Diana are to one another and I’m thankful that they have generously let us listen in.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer // I mean you’ve already read this one, right? Surely you have. It’s short and small and easy to tuck in your bag on your way to anywhere. I come back to this one again and again when I need a reminder to pay attention to the shape of my own soul and let Christ live through me whatever way he wants to.

The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh // This one hasn’t yet released so it feels a tiny bit cruel to tell you about it. I offered endorsement for this gem and if you pre-order it now you’ll get it in time for Christmas.

Basically if it were possible to combine the voices of Dallas Willard, N. D. Wilson and Jim Gaffigan, then what you would get is Adam S. McHugh. His writing is profound, lyrical and self-deprecating in all the right ways. There are few books I want to start again once I’ve finished. The Listening Life is now one of them. I adore this stunning, important book and want to give it to everyone I know.

May we learn to build in pauses before we speak and sometimes decide not to say all those words at all. Happy listening!

Because June is as Good as January for Setting an Intention

Hopefully everything you read here will help to create space for your soul to breathe, no matter if I write it or if I invite someone else in. That’s why I’m happy to welcome Claire Diaz-Ortiz to the blog today. I love Claire’s gentle reminder that you don’t have to wait until January to be intentional about your life. Here’s one simple way to do that today.

Like most of us, I want to be happier. Whether it’s waking up with more spark or going to bed more satisfied with my day, I want to open my life to the opportunity for greater joy.

As such, I love to read books about happiness. Gretchen Rubin has written a few of those, and in one of them she recommends a small, powerful idea that has taken hold to become a big, strong force in my own life.

The Importance of Setting an Intention

That idea is to choose a word each and every year that represents the year you have in front of you. Rather, to choose a word for your year. (Oh, and take a cue from Gretchen: years don’t need to start in January.)

Choose one single word that imbues the type of year you wish to have, one word that can serve as a guidepost for what you want in the season to come. A singular word you can always harken back to in moments of darkness and doubt. One word that informs your decisions, crystalizes your passions and priorities, and embodies you—the new you!—in the months ahead.

Depending on the type of year you seek, there are many words that can do the trick. Words like Move, Pause, Breathe, Dance, Less, Family, Health, Travel, and Choose all hold a certain special sauce.

The guidelines are simple. The word can be a verb or a noun. It can be a long word or a short word. But it is key that the word brings together everything you fervently hope to live and breathe in the year to come. One word to inform and synthesize the year you have ahead of you. One word to mean everything you want the year to be, and one word that will help serve as a guiding light when times get tough and you’re not clear on where your priorities are.

A few years ago, my word of the year was Rest.

It was a word that meant the world to me in that season of my life. I was harried and overwhelmed from a few too many years of corporate globetrotting, and I needed a daily reminder to do less. And so I did.

Although my Rest might not have been as restful as the Rest that some might be able to enjoy (I saw nary a beach that entire year), my word still served as a key force in getting me to slow down. It helped me to make decisions, and to keep in mind what was really important when difficult choices arose.

Should I go to that social event—or stay home? Should I say yes to what could be a great opportunity, or pass it up to wait for something better to come along? Should I travel to that work meeting—or call into it instead?

When life and work calls for us to be busy, it is hard to slow down. However, by attempting to make this word forefront in my mind, I sought to make small strides that would lead to notable changes and positive transformation. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect. I knew I would never get it 100 percent. But I did know that by setting the intention, I could make some progress.

In the end, I did. And you can, too. Set a word now, and watch your year rise up to take shape around it.

51be5Z-MwOLClaire Diaz-Ortiz is an author, speaker and Silicon Valley innovator who was an early employee at Twitter. Named one of the 100 Most Creative People in Business by Fast Company, she holds an MBA and other degrees from Stanford and Oxford and has been featured widely in print and broadcast media.

She writes a popular blog at ClaireDiazOrtiz.com and is the author of several books. The above is an excerpt from her latest book, The Better Life: Small Things You Can Do Right Where You Are.
 

The Rest of the Body // A Guest Post by Tara M. Owens

It’s my pleasure today to welcome my new friend, Tara Owens, to the blog. I met Tara in California back in January and felt instantly at ease in her presence. You’ll soon see why.

Since I recently had another birthday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changes I’m noticing in my body, some I haven’t looked too kindly upon. Today, Tara’s words are, for me, a gentle invitation – one I think we all might need – to begin to listen to and embrace our bodies in a way we may not have done before. Let her words be a gift.

It’s the end of a long week. A week of appointments and disappointments, of driving here and there with my little one. A week of coughs and colds, and of deadlines whooshing by at top speed. It’s easy enough to say my soul is tired.

Embracing the Body by Tara M. Owens

Why is it so hard to say my body is, too?

It’s funny, I think, that as believers we’re allowed to be soul-weary before we’re allowed to be bone-weary. That we privilege our emotions and our thoughts over our aching feet and heavy-lidded eyes.

I know I come by that bias honestly. Ever since coming to Christ I’ve been aware of how important it is to renew my mind, to take every thought captive, to develop the fruit of the Spirit. These things matter, and they matter deeply in the life of faith. Romans 12 is foundational to my life with God, and learning the life of Christ has come from letting the truth of His Word seep into my soul.

That’s why I was so surprised that I’d never read, never really read, the beginning of that chapter.

Yes, Romans 12 talks about renewing my mind, being transformed. But at the very beginning, the place where Paul deeply beseeches us (as it says in the New King James Version), is a verse about our bodies, my body. About giving that body to God as a living sacrifice. It’s about being willing to let go of my control of my fingers and heart, my soft tummy and even my unruly hair. It’s about being willing to give complete dominion over to God, to let go of how I want to control how I look or how much I weigh or even how much sleep I get.

What surprised me even more, as I sat with that verse, is that God asks me to give myself to Him as a living sacrifice—something new and different. Every other sacrifice, Jesus included, was to be killed, blood spilled on the altar. But because of Jesus, a new type of sacrifice can be made to God.

This time, it’s a living one. A living, breathing, sweating, crying, laughing one.

So, I wondered, what would happen if I really, really believed that? If I wasn’t afraid of giving my body to God, worried about what He might do with it? What if I risked, trusted the heart of the Father enough to give Him what He was gently asking of me?

You know what He gave me?

He gave me rest.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this, I know. It’s the first thing that Psalm 23 says is true of the Good Shepherd—He makes me lie down in green pastures.

But I’m so used to pushing and running and enslaving my body to things like productivity or performance, I didn’t expect God to tell me to pay attention to the aches. I didn’t expect God to tenderly take this worn and worried woman off the altar and show me that tension I’ve been carrying around in my shoulders were a message from Him I’m lifting burdens He’s meant to carry. I didn’t expect the God of the universe to tell me that giving those burdens to Him meant taking a nap when all I could see what my to-do list.

Here’s the thing: giving God my body, risking that with Him, freed me to listen to His murmurs through my muscles, His blessings through my bones.

What might it look like if you took that risk today, too? If you took a moment to give, really give, your body to Him—because it is fearfully and wonderfully made, just as it is—as a living sacrifice. If you risked it, what messages might you hear? What it’s an invitation to real rest, and to the rest of the body? The rest of God?

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Tara M. OwensTara M. Owens is the author of Embracing the Body: Finding God in Our Flesh and Bone published by InterVarsity Press in March 2015.

She’s a spiritual director and supervisor with Anam Cara Ministries, and the senior editor of Conversations Journal. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Bryan, their daughter, Seren, and their rescue dog, Hullabaloo.

She loves Dr. Who, red velvet cupcakes, and Jesus, not necessarily in that order.

Choosing a Book Rhythm That’s Right for You

Well, then. I think one thing we’ve established is that Chatting at the Sky readers really like to talk about books. I loved hearing your advice about which book I should read from my 10 best books I’ve never read list.

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Several of you mentioned how you choose what to read next depends on your mood, your season of life, and state of mind. I couldn’t agree more.

Meema even mentioned she can’t have a fiction and a non-fiction book going at the same time. “I can’t mix them,” she says, “like a kid who won’t allow her food to touch on her plate.” So interesting!

I thought it would be fun to tell you how I decide when to read which books and then ask how you do it in the comments.

Personally, I don’t mind if my books touch (that still kills me, Meema!) and I actually prefer having several books going at once. Instead, what book I pick up depends on the time of day.

morning reads

1. Morning – Reflective or Theological

Sometimes I’ll get up in the 5s before the kiddos and I’ll have lots of time to read. Other times my morning reading only happens once they head off to school. Whether I have five minutes or an hour, I always choose something reflective in the morning, usually devotional, theological, or memoir. (The Bible, Ann Patchett, Eugene Peterson, John O’Donohue, Hannah Whitall Smith).

2. Daytime – Creative or Business

My work hours are from around 8:30 in the morning until 2:30 when the kids get home. Sometimes I will work until 4 or 5 if I have a particular project, but usually those 6 hours in the middle of the day are for writing, email, conference calls, and anything else work-related. Those are also the hours where I’ll throw in some laundry, run an errand or two, workout, and maybe make my bed.

All that to say, I don’t tend to read in the middle of the day, but every now and then I’ll find a pocket of time (maybe while I eat lunch or waiting at the DMV, for example). The type of book I’ll pick up during a weekday is one having to do with writing, marketing, or creativity (Seth Godin, Natalie Goldberg, Steven Pressfield).

3. Evenings, Weekends, and Airplanes – Fiction and Funny Memoir

I have to save fiction and funny memoir for evenings, weekends, or traveling for the simple reason that I suffer from story addiction.

This means my family is neglected and ignored when I get into a book. For the sake of the safety of my children and the well-being of my family life, I need to save the imaginary worlds or hilarious words of others for evenings after dinner (Everyone is fed! You’re all going to be okay without me!), before I go to bed (They’re sleeping!) or when I travel (What? Flying through the air at 500 mph? Who cares! I’m engrossed in a novel!) See how that works? (Kate Morton, Sarah Addison Allen, Tina Fey).

Now. Here’s what happened after I read your comments:

That very night I read the first chapter of Anne of Green Gables outloud with one of my daughters (Notice: Fiction in the evening). We’ve both seen the movie so know what’s coming, but it’s delightful to read together.

circle of quiet

The next morning, I settled in with A Circle of Quiet by Madeliene L’Engle (Notice: Reflective memoir in the morning) as it’s one I’ve been especially wanting to read for a while and it’s also one several of you mentioned on Instagram, saying it changed your life.

Yes, please.

(Speaking of Yes Please, I read Amy Poehler’s memoir a few months ago – I saved that one for evenings and weekends. Notice: Funny memoir).

Anyway, when I sat down to read A Circle of Quiet, I opened it to the first page and this is what was there to greet me:

a circle of quiet

Don’t you love used books! I don’t know if Elaine listened to Mary’s advice and waited to read until things settled down, but I’m learning to stop waiting until life slows down to do things. A reading rhythm helps with that.

While some things in life I can’t control, there are many things I can. My life tends to move at the pace I allow, and let me tell you with my new book releasing in 17 weeks, the pace is quickening, the lists are growing, and the deadlines are landing in my inbox like bang snaps on concrete.

For those of us who tend to think rest, fulfillment, and clarity live just around the corner, we would do well to learn now that Surprise! Life doesn’t actually have corners.

Instead, we create our own stops, our own spaces, our own circles of quiet. One way to do that is to develop a reading rhythm that works for you.

“Often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings.”

Madeleine L’Engle

Do you have a book-reading rhythm you follow? Tell us in the comments! If you’d like to hear about the books I’m currently reading, I share that list every month in my newsletter. You can receive that monthly letter by signing up here.