My dear friend Brooke recently wrote, “I want to listen to what I really want to be working on, what I really want to be writing, where I really want to be spending my energy … and then do that.” This resonated with me, because I’ve been having trouble listening lately. And when I am having difficulty listening, I am most in need of guidance.
Authentic listening is a lot more demanding than it sounds. It asks that you stop and be still. And in the terrifying silence that follows, it asks that you open your heart to what you hear.
For what do we listen? For what is true, and for the next right thing.
Cherry Blossom Festival, 2009
You and I want to know the whole plan before we take the first action. But it doesn’t work that way. You act, you move forward, and then more is revealed. And once in awhile, you get a grace-filled moment of clarity. Every now and then, you sense how a certain choice will illumine your way for years to come.
Such was the case for me in June 2009. Days before I left my home life coordinator role at L’Arche*, I attended a quarterly retreat with the community. Silence is maintained on retreat, giving everyone a chance to listen.
In the months prior, I’d made big decisions on the basis of such listening: I applied to graduate school, but when I was accepted with a full scholarship, I decided not to go. I chose to transition from my L’Arche role, even though I cherished time in community. And in the midst of all this, I fell in love with Jonathan, a fellow direct-care assistant at L’Arche.
Photo Credit: DayspringRetreat.org
That day on retreat in 2009, I took a solitary walk through the woods. The trail I took leads to a hilltop, from which point you look down on a lake in a valley. There’s just one main path down the hill, and in summer, you can see why – the grasses grow waist-high.
I remembered hiking to the same spot on a winter’s day, when the landscape was barren and desolate. That day, the path down to the lake had reminded me of a wedding aisle, and the thought was infinitely depressing. At the ripe old age of twenty-two, I despaired of knowing that kind of love.
What a change to be standing in the same place the day before my twenty-fourth birthday. The landscape was bursting with life, and so was I. The thought made me smile and cry at the same time. How my life — and heart — had changed.
I stood atop the hill for a long time before turning back. As I walked, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. I was appreciating the beauty of the woods around me … when suddenly, I stopped. Because I knew.
A certitude had arisen: If Jonathan asks me to marry him, I will say yes.
It took my breath away. As a younger woman, I’d asked my mother, “How do you know that someone’s the ‘right’ person for you?” No answer satisfied me.
Finally, I understood why: it’s not something you can explain with words. It’s the kind of knowing that you listen for, that you feel, along with the sound of the wind in the trees and the touch of light on your face.
Photo Credit: Kevin J. Fischer Photography, 2012
I had no idea that Jonathan would ask me to marry him just days after that retreat. And now, four years later, his birthday approaches. Here I stand, ready to celebrate my husband, with more joy than I could have dreamed.
Whenever I am fearful about the future, I remember that day in the woods. I remember how all the steps of my life — even the ones I took without hope — led me to that moment of love and certainty. And I remember that a life I hadn’t dared to dream of is now a reality.
So if you’re feeling lost, keep listening. Keep doing the next right thing. Keep moving forward, however small the strides. After all …
The clarity you yearn for may be just a few steps ahead.
5% of proceeds from the first month’s sales of my new Kindle* Single, I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece Publishing), go to support the vital work of L’Arche DC. The month is almost up (!) so be sure to get your copy today!
*If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry! You can read Kindle books with Amazon’s (free) Kindle Cloud Reader.