The Listening Life

#6- Listening to your life

Amy Miller

6.12.16

 

Intro:

Today’s talk is the last of our 6 week series The Listening Life inspired by the excellent book by Adam McHough. And hasn’t it been a great series? To recap, Joe began the series reminding us that we have a God who listens… to us… first. How God then goes to great lengths to speak…through His word, through Jesus, when we pray, through the awe of creation, and last week David spoke on the power of listening to others. Today I get the privilege to conclude this series with what I believe to be incredibly significant…listening to our own lives.

 

BIG IDEA: If you sat your life down and interviewed it… would it have something to say?

 

Listening to your life. Giving yourself permission…while giving God the same.

That’s what we are going to spend some time together on today.

Let’s pray.

 

OFFERING HERE

 

ILL: There’s a story told of a South American tribe that would go on a long march, when all of a sudden they would stop walking, sit down to rest for awhile, and then make camp for a couple of days before going any farther. When asked, they explained that they needed the time of rest so that their souls could catch up with them.

 

Pt 1: Listen to your soul.

 

When is the last time you really listened to your soul?

In fact…gave yourself permission to listen?

And why does it matter?

 

ILL: I love this soul definition by author/professor Gregory Wolfe.

He references Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

 

The formula given in Gen 2:7 is not:

man = body+soul.

The formula there is:

soul = dust+breath.

He goes on to say that according to this verse God did not make a body and put a soul in it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust, then by breathing His breath into it, he made the dust alive. The dust formed as man and made to live, did not embody a soul; it became a soul—that is a whole creature. Humanity is thus presented to us, in Adam, as not a creature of two discrete parts temporarily glued together but as a single mystery.

 

If God’s breath is what is in us…then when listen to our souls we are going to hear Jesus.

 

We are God breathed. With souls.

And our souls need attending to.

As image bearers of God, our mind, emotions and will reside in our soul.

Our behaviors ultimately reflect what we think and feel, yet if we never take the time to self examine or listen…we may be unaware if those behaviors, or our wills, are fully yielded to Jesus.

 

Here are 3 ideas to help you listen to your soul:

 

~ Create soul space.

~ Get real. Get honest.

~ Have a plan. And make it a priority.

 

First…

~ Create soul space.

It sounds so simple…but we all know it isn’t. I’ve learned that my soul will almost always be the last to contend for the space it needs. The greatest gift I can give to the world is a fully alive self. And I believe soul space requires 2 important sides of the same coin:

Time alone…in quiet.

And time spent refilling and refueling…which may or may not be included in that time of stillness and rest.

How is that defined by you?

What refuels you? Fills you back up?

 

When you…

Get away from people.

Get together with people.

——————————–

Explore the outdoors.

Bury yourself inside in a great book.

——————————–

Create something.

Deconstruct something.

——————————–

Make a glorious mess.

Reorganize a disaster.

——————————–

Take a nap.

Go for a run.

——————————–

 

I’ve found those contrasts can all pertain to me at different points of need to refill and refuel.

 

We are living contrasts.  

Breathing, swirling, pulsing, twirling reflections of God. With souls that need attending to.

But am I attentively listening?

 

Psalm 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.” (leave up for next paragraph)

 

Wait…let’s go back and read this, because this is really important for us as a starting point for the biblical framework for this talk today. This verse resonates loudly for me…but not for the obvious. (read verse aloud again) What initially jumps out is this picture of tranquility, right? Green pastures…quiet waters…refreshes my soul. Nope. Not me. It is the first part of the verse, HE MAKES ME LIE DOWN. What is that implying? That I’m not! That my natural inclination does not include stopping, lying down or refueling.

In fact, isn’t it true? Our propensity is to do the opposite of what our soul needs.

God knows the importance of creating soul space.

 

ILL: Adam McHugh in the book The Listening Life says this:

“Life in this world has the feel of an emergency response scene: a cacophony of blaring sirens, screams, barking dogs and crisscrossed messages. It seems like there is no escape from noise. The relentless stimulation we encounter through our personal technology—emails, texts, videos, podcasts– “the great electronic din.” It’s like eating every meal in a loud packed restaurant. We are tempted to close our ears just to protect ourselves. Yet the noise creeps in, making it exceptionally difficult to create the internal quiet necessary for true listening. And if we were honest…How many of us may subconsciously choose to be immersed in outer noise because it is more comfortable than facing the internal chatter?”

Adam McHugh The Listening Life

 

 

So let’s talk about that internal chatter a moment.

Which leads to the 2nd idea in listening to your soul.

~Get real. Get honest.

In dealing with the internal chatter, or the scripts (you know…the ones we find ourselves saying to ourselves over and over in our heads) here are the questions I ask myself:

 

What voices conflict with who God says I am?

What scripts are running loudly and often in my head?

Do I give those scripts rental space in my mind? Or am I ruthlessly naming them and releasing?

Am I listening to my soul courageously?

 

Getting real and honest starts by listening.

And here is the key…spending time with Jesus…soul space…alone time…in His word…. is vital to hearing who God says I am and countering what I’m most likely succumbing to in my heart and mind.

 

Who does God say I am? Who does God say you are?

Let’s read the heart of these verses out loud together:

 

I am God’s masterpiece. Eph 2:10

I am a child of God. John 1:2

I have been adopted as God’s son/daughter. Eph 1:5

The spirit of God dwells in me. 1 Cor 3:16

I have been redeemed through God’s grace. Eph1:17

I have been given fullness in Christ. Col 2 ;10

I am a new creation in Christ. 2 Cor 5:17

I am the salt and light of the earth. Matt 5:13-14

I may approach God with freedom and confidence. Eph 3:12

I have not been given a spirit of fear but power, love and a sound mind. 2 Tim 1:7

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Phil 4:13

Christ is with me always, even to the ends of the earth. Matt 28:20

I will have eternal glory. 2 Tim 2:10

 

And these are just a few of the verses written throughout His word about us!

Who God says I am. Who God says you are.

 

God’s word is our foundation to “clear out” the internal chatter and begin believing the truth of who God says you are.

Easy? No.

Lifelong work? Yes!

 

Now let’s get even more real and honest. Who in your life…what relationships have you cultivated that know unequivocally they are “safe” to tell you the truth? Safe to say the last 10% that no one else will? I have several. People in my life who pray and fight for me and love me fiercely…but always speak the truth. Call me on my crap. They allow me to vent and process…to deeply think and feel…but more importantly to be an honest sounding board. Challenging me to recorrect to Jesus.

That doesn’t just happen. I gave them permission. And I listen when they do.

I’m fiercely committed to this because I know I need that crucial vantage point to my soul.

Easy? No.

But vital? Yes!

 

And lastly in listening to your soul…

~Have a plan. And make it a priority.

 

How do we measure if we are getting enough soul space?

~ I have a simple gauge. How is the peace vs. anxiety scale? I imagine my soul with a scale weighted with anxiety/stress on one side and peace on the other? How is the scale tipping?

~Ask your person(s). What do you see in me regarding my own soul space? But be ready. They may tell you what you don’t want to hear.

 

ILL: I’m a list maker. It’s the only way for me to keep track of it all and keep it all moving. My family jokes, “If it didn’t make mom’s list…it ain’t getting done.”

So here is a simple guideline I just recently added to keep myself accountable on my own soul space, because who am I kidding? If I don’t schedule it in…it won’t happen.

2|1|2:

2 hrs daily- Soul space (workout+PBJ)

1 day weekly- Sabbath (day of rest)

2 hrs weekly- Soul refueling (creative)

 

2 hours daily is my goal to carve out for soul space. One hour I set aside to workout. Stress reliever #1 for me. Ask me if I feel guilty about that most days? Yes. But I’m working on that. The other hour is my PBJ time. It varies…but the components are a devotional, bible reading, journal and prayer, and often another book I am reading for personal growth or prep for something I’m leading. Quick side note on journaling. How many of you would say you aren’t journalers? You’ve tried it. Not your favorite. So here is my encouragement. Try it again.

Nicole Johnson, author and dramatist says, “Journaling is like free counseling to our relationships. When we journal, we bring our hearts to God on paper. “

Journaling slows us down. And what I’ve found after years and years of journaling?

Going back and rereading my journal entries…God was speaking. God answered prayers. And God was growing and changing me in that daily soul time with Him.

But if we don’t write it down….we are quick to forget.

 

1 day weekly for Sabbath. Day of rest. Some fill up time. Connect with friends/family.

Did you know…some say if you stay in your pajamas longer you are more likely to rest instead of automatically hitting work mode? I agree!

For me…sweats…messy hair…drinking coffee on my deck swing…you get the idea.

It consciously slows down my pace.

Ok….so we all know what it looks like…but do we make time for it?

Give it the same importance as everything else on our lists?

 

And then the last of my 2|1|2.

 

2 extra hours somewhere in the week in addition to just to play, clear my head, explore, be creative and refuel. This is the time that I struggle with the most. In fact, if you don’t know what good soul time looks like, it is usually the couple hours in your week you feel most guilty about taking for yourself. Young moms…I know you know what I mean. This is not guilty time…remember your best gift to the world is a fully alive self. It varies from week to week…but I find it so important to keep my soul in balance. I’m ½ leader + ½ creative soul, pretty well divided straight down the middle. I’ve discovered if I don’t make time to refuel creatively…it begins to die in me. I need refueling!

 

Give yourself permission to interview your life.

Listen to your soul.

 

Pt 2: Listen to your calling.

 

What gets you up in the morning?

The obvious answers… your alarm. Whining dog. Spouse. Small children.

Have you noticed that small children don’t roll out of bed they same way we do?

They bounce. And I’m pretty sure they keep bouncing all day long. I think it’s because they see life with wonder and curiosity still yet untamed and jaded. Remember when we saw life through that lens?

 

ILL: Gordan MacKenzie, a sketch artist @Hallmark cards for 30 years tells the story of taking a day off work once a month to spend time in elementary classrooms exploring art. He noted something very interesting…

MacKenzie would ask the kids upfront: “How many artists are there in the room?” And he said the pattern of responses never varied.

In the first grade, the entire class waved their arms like maniacs. Every child was an artist. In the second grade, about half of the kids raised their hands. In the third grade, he’d get about 10 out of 30 kids. And by the time he got to the sixth grade, only 1 or 2 kids would tentatively and self-consciously raise their hands.

All the schools he went to seemed to be involved in “the suppression of creative genius.” “They weren’t doing it on purpose, but society’s goal is to make us less foolish.

From the cradle to the grave, the pressure is on: Be normal.”

After all of his research, he came to this conclusion: “My guess is that there was a time—perhaps when you were very young—when you had at least a fleeting notion of your own genius and were just waiting for some authority figure to come along and validate it for you. But none ever came.”

 

God invites us to be artists, creators, builders, caregivers, teachers, servants, leaders. He wired you uniquely…only you can do what He created you to do. He calls us to be world changers.

Now let’s be honest….how many hear me say that…world changers… and inside you scoff? Dismiss or discount before even entertaining? I would venture to guess that it seems too big.

Too unattainable…too unrealistic…because real life…all that needs to get done… dictates and necessitates the hours in our day.

A recent Gallup poll found that 70% of American workers are disengaged from their jobs.

I found that word interesting. Not dissatisfied, but disengaged. I think there is an integral connection point between listening to your soul and listening to your calling. If you are truly engaged with your calling most likely it is because you are in some way truly listening to your soul. Now, I’m not saying your career has be a direct tie-in to how you were wired and created by God, but I am going to suggest that if no part of your life reflects that….because remember…your behaviors are a result of what you think, believe and feel and if you haven’t taken the time to interview your soul to know what you think, believe and feel…you are most likely equally not connected to your calling!

 

So what if you asked that question of yourself again…or maybe for the first time?

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

Without discounting or editing…and simply listen for the answer anew?

What might God want to do with you if you gave Him permission?

And perhaps, beyond our careers….even more importantly with eternity and a lost world in mind?

Ephesisans 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

God has a plan and purpose for you. He never intended for you to get stuck on the hamster wheel of life.

How are you uniquely wired? What fuels you? What lights you up? What did you love doing as a kid?

Don’t let fear keep you hostage and unable to respond to God’s voice within.

Amateurs built the ark. Professionals built the Titanic.

 

Give permission to listen to the stirring perhaps ignored or lying dormant.

Listen to your calling.

 

Pt 3: Listen to your failures.

 

Not a favorite topic of conversation I know…but if we were listening…what might our failures have to say to us?

 

David is one of the most intriguing men to me in the Bible.

God speaks of David as a man after His own heart.

Acts 13:22 I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.

Yet he failed big. And loudly. As king, David coveted another man’s wife. A wife of an elite soldier in his army. So obsessed was David of her beauty that he plotted to have her husband killed by positioning him on the front lines so he could take her as his own. And he succeeded.

The prophet Nathan was later sent to David by God to tell him a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s only ewe lamb that was like a child to him and served that lamb to a passing traveler when he had many of his own sheep he could have prepared. God confronted David….for he was this rich man. Because of his sin, David then lost his firstborn child…but here is what amazes and humbles me about David. He continued to recorrect to God. I so relate to David in the Psalms…for they are David’s emotional, rollercoaster heart cries written out for all of us to learn from.

He questioned.

He wrestled.

He whined (ok, full out wailed at times)

He demanded.

But ultimately….David relinquished.

 

Time and time again when he failed…David owned it. And he chose to worship God for who He was…and surrendered. He relinquished.

David wasn’t defined by His failures…nor did God hold that view of him.

And can you imagine David’s arrival to heaven to discover that his tumultuous life was in direct line to the birth of Jesus? His life mattered. His failures and how he responded to them defined him as a man after God’s own heart.

 

I want my failures in my life…and there are many… to count.

For my failures to make me more attune to God’s voice.

“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.” –Henry Ford

 

Give yourself permission to fail. Because we all will.

And then celebrate what you can learn from them.

Listen to your failures.

 

Pt 4: Listen to your pain.

 

It is interesting…when contemplating and praying about my outline for this talk, this was the very first point for me to write down. And yet…the very last for me to write out.

I kept avoiding it. Honestly…I didn’t want to talk about it.

In fact…how many people who have experienced deep pain (whether it is of your own making or otherwise) can relate to my thought of…I don’t want to listen to my pain. It is already declaring itself loudly enough in my life. I don’t want to hear it. Feel it. It is already yelling. And it is deafening at times.

The other awareness for me was that I honestly didn’t know if I could speak on this…or if even it was appropriate to do so as this is very real and raw for me in this season of my life.

Palaptable. Present. And painful. There ya go. Profound I know….pain is painful.

 

Many of you know my story, but for those who don’t, my husband Paul

{PIC of Paul/me} is battling Neurological Lyme disease. 4 years ago his body imploded and it has been a brutal, daily battle ever since. I won’t go into all the details, but it is a complex, debilitating disease that has ravaged his brain, his body and his soul. Lyme is fighting for Paul to relinquish on all fronts. It is exhausting, disheartening and beyond overwhelming at times.

And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I’ve uttered thru tears streaming down my face, while holding his head in my hands as waves of seizure upon seizure consume him, “Please Jesus heal him or let him come home to you.”

But here is what God whispered to me as I wrestled with even going here with all of you,

“This isn’t about you Amy. It’s about me. Tell them about me in your pain.”

 

Psalms 56:3-4 When I am afraid, I will trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I will trust, I will not be afraid.

 

2 Cor 4:16-18 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 

Exodus 14:14 The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.

 

ILL: Recently I was sitting in a hospital waiting room in the wee hours of the morning, a regular hang out spot for me, and I picked up a deeply inspirational magazine for solace (People magazine of course) and I came across a quote from an actress who said when she is in her toughest moments in life she tries to remember that is when she does her best work. I felt God whisper to me, “Amy, be still and wait…for in your toughest moments… that is when I do my best work.”

 

I believe pain (if we embrace it) postures us for a deeper ability to listen to God. When we are desperate we sit in His presence with a completely different attentiveness. It’s human instinct to want to run from our pain. To bury it. To medicate it. To distract ourselves from having to face it.

But I contend…as does your soul…embrace it.

Lean into it…not away from it.

Besides, you can’t ignore it anyways if you try. It always resurfaces.

So…take it to Jesus… full on. He can handle it far better than you.

 

ILL: Has anyone else figured out yet that we don’t really control anything? Just recently I was wrestling with a different but equally painful vantage point in my life…my 25 yr old son’s years of battling addiction. I was angry. Pissed off actually, because I felt I was ringside and watching the enemy take yet another round. And he was gloating.

I let God have it. All day long. Wrestling loudly…internally….silently raging. Demanding God to answer…when was He going to swoop in and save the day? (And God can handle the full weight of us…you know that right?) Gratefully…although God still felt silent…there began a quiet release in me as I prayed….like air slowly deflating in my soul.

I had asked God to speak. Perhaps He was.

A marvelous stirring began. I love that about the Holy Spirit in our lives. It’s like He just waits for our exhausted surrender.

And then…a faint murmur of a tune. A childhood remembrance of a song.

“My God is so big! So strong and so mighty there’s nothing my God cannot do.” I found myself singing it out loud in my car, tears streaming once again down my face, ignoring the self awareness of fellow drivers seeing…and simply declared to the enemy, “Ok…you may have won this round, but not the final one. That one has already been determined.

Until then I choose to fight another day.

Contending. Interceding. Believing that God is at work. Always.

 

ILL: A key note speaker at a conference shares her story on pain:

He approached at the close of the conference, after the crowds had dispersed and headed home. Moments before, he’d heard me share a sliver of my complicated story. Cancer three times over. An inability to eat and speak normally. The months of treatment that took me to the brink of death. The years of physical trauma that assaulted body and mind with a suffering I didn’t know any human could endure. 

“I know you don’t really know me, but…” He seemed both unsure and determined. “Do you mind if I pray for you?” 

It wasn’t a hollow offering, not a passing “I’ll pray for you” muttered in the awkwardness of not knowing what to say. 

His question—his offer—was sincere. He wanted to pray for me. He needed to. And so I smiled and received the gift. 

But as he poured out his heart, as He pleaded with God to bring complete healing to my frail and broken body, as he begged the Almighty to restore the months and years I’d lost, I felt the tiniest stirring of rebellion deep within. 

But what if healing isn’t the greater gift? 


What if the losses have delivered an acute awareness of God? 


What if the suffering is forcing a grip tight on Jesus? 


What if the daily physical struggle is finally subduing the internal one, the pride and insecurity I’ve long fought?

If so, is a prayer for healing what I need after all?

I didn’t expect these questions to bubble to the surface while a kind stranger prayed a beautiful prayer. More often than not, I fight against my new reality. I mourn what I’ve lost. There is no part of me that relishes the pain or cares to revisit it. 

And yet. As the man prayed, a Holy Spirit revelation pushed against the healing prayers I’m often so desperate for. 

What if relief from the struggle isn’t the gift we think it is? 

            Instead, what if the sweeter mercy is found in the presence of it? 

Isaiah 45:3 “I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.”

So that you may know it is I. 

The question of the place and purpose of struggle and suffering is not an easy one.

It brings into question the motives and love of God. 

And yet (and she goes on) after years of more pain than I ever imagined I’d endure, I can tell you I’m starting to see suffering as a gift delivered in cover of darkness:

Suffering softens my tendency toward self-sufficiency. 


Suffering bends my knees to a place of humility. 


Suffering opens me up to deeper compassion. 


Suffering ignites an inexplicable craving for God’s Glory.  


Suffering stirs a greater longing for eternity. 

There is something holy about God’s presence and purpose in our pain. 

I cannot ignore the work God has wrought through my suffering. It’s an unexpected mercy, an uncommon gift.

 

An uncommon gift. Jesus has used the pain in my life to draw me to Him. And you know what I found there? The deep awareness that Jesus understands. Because He endured pain on levels I’ll never imagine…for me. For me to be restored to Him.

 

Hebrews 12:2 “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”

 

This is a God who deeply understands the pain I feel. And He’ll use it if I let Him.

 

Great CS Lewis quote :God whispers to us in our pleasure but shouts to us in our pain.

 

Give yourself permission to let your pain yell. Loudly.

And when we don’t know where to look for joy…look to Jesus.

Listen to your pain.

 

And that leads to my last point.

Pt 5: Listen for the joy.

 

How much more effective might we be as lights to this dark world if instead of verbally imposing our “cliché laden answers” we simply lived joyously…may I dare suggest even buoyantly amidst the hard questions? The unanswerable?

Just let them be what they are. And point people back to Jesus.

Might that speak louder?

 

”True joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God. Pierre Teilard de Chardin

 

Joy defined is not happiness. Happiness is fleeting. Dependent on circumstances.

Joy always runs synonymous with pain. The two are not mutually exclusive.

 

I want to have a firm grip on joy, don’t you?

Patsy Clairmont, one of my favorite Women of Faith speakers, says,

“There is nothing worse than a cranky old woman who can’t see past her furrowed brow or a young woman who can’t see past her own reflection.Patsy Clairmont

I want to have a firm grip on joy.

 

ILL: One of the favorite stories I remember hearing when my kids were little was of a young mom who left her small children unattended in the kitchen (just for a brief moment) only to return to the flinging of Jello…and lots of it…onto the kitchen walls. And not just the porous, stickable-surfaced brick wall, but Jello dropping from the ceiling, the cupboards, sliding down the fridge, the dog…you get the idea. Jello was creviced artfully everywhere.

Instantly the mom assessed the hours of cleaning in her near future.

The room became eerily quiet. Children frozen in mid-throw. Bracing themselves for the obvious response to come. But to their utter surprise…the young mom silently walked over to the bowl, picked up the remaining Jello, and joined in. The roar of the room erupted in joyous, Jello mayhem.

 

I’d love to say in my earlier mom years that would have been me. It wasn’t.

But I’m learning to listen to my life differently. Not taking myself so seriously.

Allowing laughter to diffuse the difficult of the daily. Finding the joy.

 

ILL: Here’s me and my son-in-law Eric on Thanksgiving Day a few years back

{PIC of Eric/me} utilizing the whip cream intended for the pumpkin pie instead for an all out food fight battle. Guess who started it? Eric was rather stunned at first. As were the rest of my family. But he finished it well.

 

Joy. Don’t miss it…it is there. Speaking loudly in that life of yours worth interviewing.

Give yourself permission.

Listen for the joy.

 

I’m going to finish with this from author Shauna Niequist from her book, Cold Tangerines.

 

ILL: Today is your big moment. Moments really. The life you have been waiting for is happening all around you. The scene unfolding right outside your window is worth more than the most beautiful painting, and the crackers and peanut butter you are having for lunch on the coffee table are as profound, in their own way as the Last supper. This is it. This is life in all it’s glory, swirling and unfolding around us, disguised as pedantic, pedestrian non-events. But pull off the mask and you will find your life, waiting to be made, chosen, woven, crafted.

Your life, right now today, is exploding with energy and power and detail and dimension, better than the best movie you have ever seen. You and your family and your friends and your house and your dinner table and your garage have all the makings of epic proportions, a story for all the ages. Because they all are. Every life is.

You have stories worth telling, memories worth remembering, dreams worth working towards, a body worth feeding, a soul worth tending, and beyond that the God of the universe dwells within you, the true culmination of super and natural.

You are more than dust and bones.

You are spirit and power and image of God.

And you have been given the gift of today.

 

If you sat your life down and interviewed it, would it have something to say?

Let’s pray.