listen to the quiet

note: this is the first of a two-part series.

do you remember how i wrote to you about the dimming of my shining star? this is something that has continued to be the theme of my experience of life for the past few weeks. for example . . .

* even though the pivotal and holy conversation i shared with kirsten a couple months ago helped me see that writing has become less important to me than sitting with people in the quiet, broken, imperfect, shattered, and redemptive places of their hearts, i have had to keep laying it down. in recent weeks, as i have found myself surrounded by so many beautiful books already in the world, by friends who are publishing new books and completing novels and drafting book proposals with words that seem to have fallen down like manna from the heavenly skies, i have been thankful for these wonderful gifts in the world but have also looked upon them with a measure of wistfulness. no matter how long i have labored in that direction myself, the words just have not come. and even though God is showing me my deeper heart for other things right now, there is still a sadness that comes with the death of a long-held hope. it has been humbling to let this hope go, at least for the time being, when it has been so long tied to my identity and experience of life.

* when we went to california, i was, for the most part, away from blogland. though i would check e-mail and the blogs of my closest friends, i could not even attempt to keep up with the rest. as a result, i began to see a sliver of just how many words are continually being launched into the world. i would pull up my bloglines account and just stare at it. first there were 10 unread posts . . . then 25 . . . then 52 . . . then 110 . . . then 132 . . . then 187. the numbers just continued to grow every day, creating a greater and greater sense of how many voices are speaking out there in the world. and if i never personally contributed anything to the conversation again, no blog posts of my own to add, the posts would just keep coming, and the world would just kept running, churning out more and more words and perspectives and opinions and stories and experiences and lives. it was humbling to realize just how small i really am, in the scope of the big wide world out there that is consistently saying its piece.

* when we went to biola and visited isf, it was so wonderful to have found a community that understands the same deep calling of my heart. they used language like "heart" and "grace" and "journey" and "formation," and i felt like i was home. i could not wait to get started, to take courses that would grow my understanding even deeper, to eventually participate in practical intensives, to be in fellowship with others who are intentional about growth in themselves and in the lives of others. but there was also a measure of humbling that came alongside all of this. it may sound strange, and it is hard for me to admit that i even felt this way, but i felt humbled when i realized how many workers are already working in these fields of harvest. i suppose this tapped into the crusader in me who sometimes wants to blaze a trail that is not yet known, only to find that this particular trail has been revived for quite some time and that many have walked back and forth upon it many times over.

i came home from california pretty discouraged. i've already shared about the ways the trip was different than either of us expected, but now i was adding to the mix a full measure of my own insignificance. there are some days in the aftermath of that trip when my response to all of this was to bow before my God and pray. but most days, i ran away. [clearly, this is nothing new with me.]

here is what running away looked like for me in those handful of days. i would leave my e-mail account open on my screen all day long, my eyes flitting to it constantly to see if there were any new messages, voices from my life affirming my existence. i would check my bloglines account about ten times every hour, so deep was my need to fill the gaping hole inside of me with content i found meaningful, with voices i have come to love. i would scour new blogs for hours, searching for new ones to add to my bloglines, trying to slake my neverending thirst for more and more content. i would check news headlines twice an hour, trying to keep my hands around a globe so vast that it exceeds my grasp no matter how faithfully i tried to capture all of it in me. i would dig deeper into books and ask kirk if he wanted to watch more movies. i would curl myself under the covers and fall asleep for handfuls of hours with my sweet kitty diva close to my side.

really, i was alternating between a chaos of noise and utter oblivion.

i knew it wasn't working. it left me feeling even emptier than before, and all i knew was that i felt very, very small and alone in my experience. kirk saw what was going on and expressed his concern, but i felt helpless to explain these compulsions or turn away from them. i knew God was there, that he wanted me close, but still i fled. i could not face him. i could not sit still and stare into his eyes or let him put his arms around me. i wanted to be alone, but i feared this very aloneness all the same, more than anything else in the world.

after about five or six days of this, kirk encouraged me to close the laptop, put it down, and spend some time in the quiet with God. as he left the room, i pulled the covers close and turned onto my side, staring at the floor below. i shook my head, my eyes swimming with tears, my mouth closed and lips turned down. i let the tears fall and just tried to listen to the space inside that i'd been trying so hard to fill.

i heard it speaking of a need to feel significant, and yet of feeling so small and insignificant. i heard it speaking of the terror of this reality, of its helplessness in that place, of its being so exhausted from trying. and then i heard another voice.

listen to the quiet.

this one line echoed again and again in my consciousness for the next three days straight. listen to the quiet. i heard it at almost every turn. listen to the quiet. every time i was tempted to turn to my computer one more time. listen to the quiet. every time i turned to the stack of books standing on the little table next to my bed. listen to the quiet. every time i wanted to pull a movie out of the cupboard, any movie that might satisfy that ache inside of me or distract me from its presence. listen to the quiet.

and so i did. as completely frustrating as it was to hear that voice in those places, as much as i wanted it to just go away already, i heeded the invitation.

i wish i could say that i got answers from the quiet, but i didn't. pretty much, i sat there in silence, no words going out or coming in. the silence didn't say much. in fact, it said nothing at all. i heard no words from God, other than this short four-word phrase, over and over again, which obviously runs a little short on directives other than the one i'm to heed in the present moment.

if i learned anything from the quiet, i learned how hard it is for me to sit inside of it. the introvert in me has always been content to sit quietly with a book, to journal quietly, to have a quiet morning at home, and yet that kind of quiet is not the same as this kind. this quiet was about keeping a discipline of silence not filled with other activity or any incoming or outgoing information, no matter how quietly those activities and information flow. with this kind of quiet, i learned i have so far to go.

and i guess you could also say that the quiet made me face the truth of myself, how quickly i would rather run to other gods to fill me up, how much my insides are hurting, how many questions about my existence still go unanswered. but as much as the feeling of insignificance has pervaded my experience of life of late, i could no longer abide the message that i was, in truth, insignificant. after all, the God of the universe was speaking four words to me over and over again. this means he sees me and all the many details of my life, enough to speak into it. it means that what is going on, all of it, every last thread of my story that is connected to whole handfuls of other threads in my story . . . all of them are meaningful: full of meaning.

and this, my friends, was a hope i could not evade any longer, even if i had no other words or directives to follow in the thick of all this silence. it was a truth i had to sit with, to let just be, even though the hole inside my chest that wanted to be filled and given some sense of direction kept revealing itself to me in greater, more frequent intervals.