This Inadequacy, This Gift

Laguna Beach, CA

November 2005

So, the story of this pruning year has developed quite a bit in the last several weeks. I'm gaining new insights into what God has been about these last 14 months or so. And I have to tell you, it's quite a marvel to me. It reminds me once again that God always knows what he is doing, even if I don't.

This is going to take a couple installments to fully articulate, so I hope you'll bear with me as I go.

As I've shared with you a bit before, I spent a lot of time in the last 14 months kicking and fighting against what was happening. I went from a pretty strong and beautifully fruitful place inside my soul to a place of utter chaos. I blamed myself for this chaos. I blamed my circumstances, too. Other times, I blamed God. I just couldn't seem to figure out what was happening, and I couldn't seem to get away from it or make it better. I hated it so, so much. I felt so weak and poorly. I couldn't show up for others in the ways I wanted to, and I couldn't seem to get a grip on everything vying for attention in my own life.

It was a hard year.

Then, as I've also shared with you, I reached a point where it was time for a change. I needed greater spaciousness and quietness for the restoration of my soul, but it had also become quite clear that the time had come for me to reclaim a direction for my life that God has clearly marked out for me. So Kirk and I agreed on some changes, and I set out into this new chapter inside my story.

However, I didn't expect what came next: I discovered completely new places of inadequacy, this time in places that had always been known and natural and familiar to me.

Primarily, this happened when I was listening. Listening is something that has always been like second nature to me, ever since I was a child. It is something I love doing for others, and it is something that somehow God always seems to use. For the last several years, I have come to embrace that truth more and more and have been walking deeper into the ways God can use this gifting in the lives of others more intentionally.

But here, in this new chapter of my story, a chapter that was to see me embracing that listening role even more, I felt inordinately clumsy at it. I felt like an old car lurching down the road because its fuel injection mechanism isn't working quite right. There I would go, lumbering in fits and starts down the street, lurching and then stopping, lurching and then stopping, with an occasional squeal of the tires and sometimes a blast of the horn.

It was so puzzling to me. And a bit alarming. Instead of being fully present to another's sharing, an interior monologue kept going off in my mind every time I was listening to someone, and that interior monologue kept chattering about all the things I ought to be doing or saying or not saying, and then doubting every last word and gesture and action and inaction I took.

In other words, I found myself far too focused on me in moments that were meant to be fully focused on the person before me.

This was not what I was used to experiencing in my listening practice with others. And so I would cry out to God in desperation, asking him to overcome my failings and my weaknesses, asking him to be all that was needed for them, since for some reason I couldn't do this listening thing well right now.

I kept bumping up against this fact over and over again: I was needing to relearn how to listen.

This bothered me because, again, listening has always been something I've intuitively known how to do. It's not ever been hard for me to focus on the other person, and prior to this last chaos year, I had begun to inhabit the sharing of other people's stories so much that I totally forgot myself while I was listening. I somehow came to feel and know their own experience as they shared it with me.

All of this distracted inner chatter and outer clumsiness, then, confused and frustrated me. I wasn't being the kind of listener I'd always known how to be.

A few weeks into this new (un)experience of listening, I shared all this with my spiritual director, Elaine. A few days after that, I shared it with another good friend who is training to be a spiritual director as well.

And both of them, quite separate from the other, asked me the very same question: Could there be gift here?

Gift . . . in this inadequacy? At first pass, I scoffed at their question. But then my mind turned directly to this: one thing every person kept receiving from me in this new place were those desperate, pleading prayers on their behalf for God to be everything that was needed because I couldn't know or do what was needed.

Yes, this was gift.

Those prayers were gifts that those individuals wouldn't have received otherwise, if I'd been in my stronger, more healthy place. When I listened to people before, I felt a distinct partnership with God in those sessions, and I certainly felt aware of his presence throughout and often asked for his help. God usually showed up in those listening sessions in ways that were unexpected and needed.

But this? This was new. Never has there been such a desperate cry for God to be everything because I felt myself nothing. All of this was utterly new. And I couldn't help but think those prayers on behalf of others, those prayers as a result of my inadequacy, were indeed gift.

Stay tuned . . .