We cannot live our lives constantly looking back, listening back, lest we be turned to pillars of longing and regret, but to live without listening at all is to live deaf to the fullness of the music…. Listen for him. Listen to the sweet and bitter airs of your present and your past for the sound of him. —Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey
Whether we’re looking back on the last year or the last evening, pausing to reflect can evoke a fair bit of anxiety.
The first part is easy and generally involves savouring the gifts received–that intimate conversation, that moment of recognition, that person who arrived in the nick of time. We may remember the tastes, smells, sights, and sounds of the earth’s beauty. We may give thanks for our home, our relationships, new freedoms and the boundless, present, unceasing love of God.
The next part can be challenging, so let’s do it together.
What didn’t go so well? How were we hurt? Where are we still stuck? Perhaps, like me, you’re thinking. “I wish I wouldn’t have… “
I remember a recent conversation with a friend and notice how judgment is the first to show up, activating defensive strategies. I blame them or myself. I become the victim. I can feel discouraged, defeated and ashamed. I can fall into a loop of judgment and shame for a long time, ruminating on what they did wrong or how my response wasn’t helpful. I stay in reactivity until I’m reminded by something I read or a podcast I listened to that we’re human. This is what it means to be human. We react to painful experiences. But we don’t need to stay there. We can open to God’s loving kindness. That’s where growth happens.
Pausing to notice my reactivity (often in the form of anger, judgment or shame), allows me to offer myself compassion. “That’s so hard,” I hear God say. “That hurt,” I say to myself. These words are a healing balm to my soul and invite gentle inquiry. With God, I ask myself, “Where does it hurt? What were you hoping for? What did you lose?”
“I love you. I’m listening,” I say to myself.
I notice a hint of tears at back of my eyes. Such loving compassion allows me to feel accepted and able to ask God for what I need instead of cowering under reprimands from my internal critic.
Let’s pause here and say hello to the part of us that’s so critical. What would it be like to thank her for trying to protect us from disappointment or harm? I look her in the eyes and gently say, “I love you. I’m listening.” She tells me she’s afraid that if I don’t overcome this, people will think I’m a fake. The critic doesn’t want any evidence that proves my fears about myself could be true. “I hear you,” I say to her and let her imagine with me what it would be like to let go of those fears. My shoulders soften, and my arms rest more fully on my thighs. I let out a long, slow breath.
I feel a shift from reactivity to presence. I watch the event again with compassion and curiosity. If judgment, guilt or shame creeps in, I gently ask them to take a seat and turn my attention back to the scene with an open, loving heart. I name what is, welcome my friend and myself just as we are. I feel the sadness that we weren’t our best selves. I notice where it hurts and what thoughts arise. My True Self, the me that lives in God unaffected by trauma, asks the hurting part of me what she needs to return home. “I love you. I’m listening,” I say to her and wait.
This hurting part of me needs reassurance that transformation is happening and to be reminded that I’m already home. I place my hand on my heart, and welcome the voice of Love, my voice intertwined with God’s, incarnate in all things, the ancient Word that has no beginning and no end.
Love says, “I created you and you are mine, and all I created I love and care for, nurture and make whole. I know who you are and I’m sharing what I know with you so you can see your beauty and feel the delight I feel when you come near.”
Feeling so loved, so accepted, I turn toward my friend. With my imagination, I listen and watch as Love holds them. The scene is so intimate. Tears are shed with heaving and wails, and God enfolds them in a loving embrace, stroking their head looking into their eyes.
This becomes my prayer for them. May they know how deeply they are loved, and may love release them from reactivity to openness, from shame and judgment to compassion and receptivity, from guilt to forgiveness.
I pray that for myself.
And for you.
I love you. I am listening.
When is the last time you closed your eyes and said these words to yourself?
When was the last time you took the time to give to yourself
what you endeavour to give others?
–Sarah Blondin, Loving and Listening to Yourself Meditation
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I give thanks for the life of Desmond Tutu who was a South African Anglican bishop and theologian, known for his work as an anti-apartheid and human rights activist. He passed away on December 26 at the age of 90. In this above video clip, Desmond Tutu talks about forgiveness. You may also enjoy this interview with Krista Tippet. Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” What little bit of good are you invited to do today?