Thursday, May 30, 2013

a new kind of quietness {how to keep a quiet heart: Part 1}

I’ve latched onto Ann’s practice of naming years.  Two years ago was “The Year of Here.”  Last year, “The Year of Letting Go.” 

And then, towards the end of last year, the phrase “a handful of quietness” kept circling in my thoughts.  I liked the way it sounded, how it felt in my my mind.  With a newborn baby and two preschoolers, I was craving a handful of quietness!  

I can’t remember where I came across it, maybe in something I was reading while trying to get my head around moving back to Central Asia with three kids.  It took me a while to find the verse it came from (who reads Ecclesiastes, anyway?)...  When I finally found it, the whole verse jumped off the page at me:

6 Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.  
Ecclesiastes 4:6

That’s what I want for this year, I thought to myself.  I don’t want to be full of toil, striving after things that will only blow away in the wind.  I need some peace and quiet around here!

Now, more than a quarter of the way into the year, the kids are resting, and I’m sitting at my kitchen desk in a pool of afternoon quiet.  My hands cupped around a mug of hot tea, I’m reflecting on what the title “The Year of Quietness” might mean for my 2013.  My heart sinks slightly.  I’m not very good at being quiet.  I’ve always struggled to hold my tongue, always talked too much, too long, too loudly.  (I come from a whole line of talkers, actually.)  My husband says sometimes I “drown him with words.”  Poor guy.  Guess which one of us is the internal processor.  

So.  Me, be quiet for a whole year?  Whose idea was this? with a pointed mental glance in Jesus’ direction.  What were You thinking, anyway?  Does this mean I have to spend a whole year saying nothing, asking nothing, pursuing nothing?  Just obediently holding my tongue, while inside I’m about to explode?  

I cringe at the thought.  Maybe a month-long fast from talking would be good for me, but  - a whole year?

Or... is there maybe another, deeper, truer way to view Quietness?  What about quietness of heart, quietness of soul?  Would that help my mouth speak less,  more quietly?  I remember, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks…” (Luke 6:45)

How do I keep a quiet heart, so I can keep a quiet mouth?

I’ll never forget Dr. K’s handwritten comment in the margin of one of the papers I turned in for her senior seminar class.  One of my all-time favorite professors, Dr. K didn’t just teach.  She mentored us, counseled us, and held us accountable.  She urged us to probe deeper, exploring our true motivations for life, learning, and making music.  

In red ink, she jotted in the margin of my paper: “You sound so driven. What are you striving for?  

Until I read those words, I had never thought of myself as “driven”.  But her insight went home.  I was driven, I realized.  I practically ran everywhere on campus.  What was driving me?  I started wondering.  Was it something outside of me, or was I driving myself?  Who or what was I trying to measure up to?

Back then, in the Wheaton Conservatory of Music, I think I was trying to measure up to all my stellar peers around me who I always felt were more talented, more disciplined, more successful.  By the end of college I did realize that my goals in the world of music were fundamentally different than most of theirs, and I gave myself permission to do different things as a musician other than perform classically.  

But now, almost 10 years later, Dr. K’s comment comes back to haunt me.  In many ways, I’m still driven.  Driven to keep my house neat as a pin, driven to research every single curriculum option available for homeschooling, driven to criticize, pick apart, micromanage.  

The writer of Ecclesiastes contrasts “a handful of quietness” with “two hands full of toil and striving after wind.”  I’ve come to realize that my drivenness, my “striving after wind”, originates from within myself.  I need to learn how to set myself free.

The other day I came across an article written by one of our ministry leaders.  Among other things I identified with, she admits to being task-oriented, perfectionistic, and loving list-making - even making lists of the lists she needs to make!  (I thought I was the only crazy person who did that?!)  In her article, she enumerates various ways she’s found to combat her drivenness.  This one leapt out at me:

Learn how to lay things down— This year I am reflecting once a month on the passage in Matthew 11:28-30 that says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” 

“As a result of this reflection, I’ve learned to write a new kind of list: a list of the expectations I have for myself which have become burdens. I am learning how to lay them down at the invitation of God to lift my weariness. The practice has been freeing and life-giving for me.” 

- K.F., one of our ministry leaders

Lay things down at the invitation of God, to lift my weariness.  I need to learn how make a new kind of list.  A new kind of list, a new kind of quietness.  

I sip Earl Grey, journal open in front of me.  I jot down across the top of a new page: 

What expectations do I have for myself that have become burdens?

I cup my warm mug with both hands, think through my life, my habits.

All surfaces in my house cleaned off all the time.  {The lie: A tidy house is the source of my peace.}

Yummy meals every single night - no room for “duds”.  {The lie: I’m letting my family down if I cook something they’re not crazy about.}

Must reply to every email, and feel guilty if several days go by without checking.  {The lie: my friends will love me less if I don’t reply right away, AND my feelings of being loved are essential to my identity and self-worth.}

Must keep up with my Scripture memory program, must wash all the dishes before going to bed, must, must, must… 

I really do think I’ll feel better if I can check these things off, but they just come around again tomorrow, and I never actually feel ahead of the game.

The writer of Ecclesiastes calls these things what they really are: “wind”A gusty puff of air.  No substance, no lasting value.  Certainly not worth striving after.  Burdens, really.  Windy, airy burdens that will blow me off course, distract me from what really matters.

I have to lay these burdens down.  If I don’t, they’ll strangle me, and then I’ll strangle my family with unrealistic expectations (mostly for myself!) and the ugliness that leaps out of my mouth when my expectations aren’t met.  

But how do I lay these burdens down?  How do I open my hands, let go of my striving, and receive quietness and freedom?

A memory verse jumps to mind: 
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 
Romans 8:1

If you and I are in Christ Jesus, there is no. more. condemnation.

What holds us captive is our own condemnation of ourselves, our own false imagining of God and how He sees us, our own wrong assessment of what we have to do to measure up.  It’s all a lie!  Christ took all that condemnation upon His own self, so we don’t have to live under guilt anymore.    

So… I am free!  You are free.

In Christ, we are free to stop striving after vain goals and unrealistic expectations.  

Free to let go, free to focus on what really matters: being all here, in each moment.  Cultivating gratitude.  Stepping into grace.

We are free to lay down our self-imposed burdens, open our hands and receive…

...a new kind of quietness.


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