Satisfyingly Quiet

I love writing, it’s why I blog multiple times a week on several blogs and write newsletters and a devotional each week (I also happen to love to read both fiction and non-fiction, but one doesn’t necessarily relate to/influence the other). Sometimes when I sit down I’ve got something really specific on my mind or heart to write about, other times I’m sparked by something I read in an email or saw in the news, other times I’m sharing about something I saw out and about in the world, sometimes I write about something seasonal that I probably write about every year in one way or another.

Monday when I sat down to write this blog post I had a couple of ideas to write about but I kept getting stuck. I’m sure if you ask any author even those who are extremely prolific with book writing/publishing and put out several books a year can tell you that sometimes they sit down and either have a block or decide that everything they’ve written so far is better off deleted than shared. Sometimes like in any other aspect of life you decide that you’ve given it your best effort and accept it as it is, or decide that it’s going to fulfill the bridge purpose it has (i.e. it bridges between two books/posts/topics) because not doing something is not an option or you’re being too picky on yourself.

But as I was reflecting on what to write today I came back to something we’ve taken a bit of a step back from in recent days/weeks, and that’s quiet time. We sure had a lot of it in the earlier months of the year, but now we’ve gotten back into some social gatherings and the busyness that comes with autumn and school and I don’t think we’re stopping to reflect and listen and be peaceful and just appreciate being alive like we did several months ago. We’ve scaled back and made changes that can benefit us long term, but I don’t think we should lose the appreciation for life or the quiet moments that we added to our lives through the challenges of this year.

Yes, we like when we talk to God and when He talks with us. Yes, we like when we’re able to gather together, or at the very least chat on the phone or by video chat. But there’s something fulfilling and satisfying about being quiet and just hearing nature or being alone with your own thoughts or just sitting and meditating with God. So this week as you make plans (however tentative they may be) for the rest of the month and maybe the rest of the year, I encourage you to plan in some quiet time each day, or at least each week to give yourself time and space mentally and physically to just be.

A Little Spice to Life

You’ve probably heard the saying “variety is the spice of life,” and I believe there’s a lot of truth in that statement. I’ve always been someone who enjoys a variety of things (from dogs to TV to foods to people to places), but equally important with variety in that statement is the mention of spice. I know some people aren’t fans of spicy foods, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about a life, food, job, relationship with vitality, personality, passion and flavor. I don’t believe life should be dull and uniform, I believe that we’ve been created to enjoy life and live a creative, colorful and meaningful life.

I’ve been sharing about this in recent weeks in my devotional, starting with sharing in May about the book of Ecclesiastes and how God would not have placed or allowed to be created all of the pleasurable aspects that we enjoy if we were not to enjoy them. This past week I shared about mornings, and while I’m not a morning person, I know that each one is different in the different ways the sun rises and colors the sky to the animals that move around to the flowers or plants that are growing and changing. God’s not a boring God, and in case you need more evidence, He created each of us different! That’s a huge challenge and investment right there and takes lots of creativity (over 100 billion individuals).

It can be easy to get wrapped up in your own little world and miss what’s going on around you. For example, I know that there’s a lot more that goes on throughout the day on the street I live on now that it’s summer and I’m outside to see it, than I could predict just from hearing the cars go by. But you also miss out on lots of God’s little blessings and signs that He has for you when you’re too focused on keeping your life status quo and not open to a little spice and variety. What’s the point of asking God for stuff if we’re not open and looking for it?

So this week I encourage you to add a little spice to your life and to be open to something new and different and whatever blessings God wants to send your way. I think you’ll be blessed and amazed with all that goes on around you that God has a hand in that you don’t know about, and those little blessings might be exactly what you need to give you the strength to navigate the challenges and changes that we’re going through right now.

Transfiguration Conversations

This past week in my Lent devotionals I read one of the passages in the Bible that shares the story of the Transfiguration. The Bible is filled with lots of incredible stories, but this one is a bit more unusual than some of the others in it, because it Moses and Elijah (who have both been dead for many years) to a mountain top meeting with Jesus, while three of Jesus’ disciples look on. Crazy, right? It’s incredible to think that these three disciples got to spend time with not just Jesus but also with these two legends of the Old Testament. It’s easy to understand their excitement and desire to have them stick around for a while, I know I would want to spend as much time with them as possible as well.

But one of the things that caught my attention as I read the Matthew 17 version of the Transfiguration was the fact that you’ve got these three legends up on a mountain top, and it doesn’t share what they talked about. It says they talked but not what they talked about. It does share in Luke 9 that they talked about Jesus’ last days, but all three versions make it clear that they were all on the mountain for an extended period of time and I have a hard time believing that they only talked about Jesus’ last days. But if we didn’t have multiple versions of the story, like we don’t for most parts of the Bible, we wouldn’t have any idea at all what was said.

So all of this got me thinking about how often we don’t know the whole story. It’s really quite frustrating to think that there’s so much more to what happened to our favorite Biblical figures than what the many pages of the Bible shares, things that might help us better understand them or identify more with them, or better understand what God saw in them that we may not.

The same is true for our lives and the lives of the people we connect with each day both in person and online: we don’t know their whole story, and rarely do we know much of their story. Yes, if someone is active on social media it’s a lot easier to get to know them, but most people don’t post every aspect of their lives, so we only know what they choose to share. But chances are good you don’t meet someone and instantly go on their social accounts and try to find out stuff about them, most of us don’t care enough about those very minor interactions to go to those efforts. My point here is that we don’t know the whole story: we don’t know everything they’re struggling with or God is working with them on. We don’t know everything that makes them shine and they’re passionate about. We don’t know everything about their past and how they came to the point of being where they are and the person they are today.

So each interaction, each person, each moment is an opportunity to be more open, to judge slower, to ask God for His feedback before jumping to conclusions, and to be willing to listen and learn as the world unfolds around you. What will you learn by being a little more detail oriented and patient today?

Trying to Listen

Communication is something that I talk and think about frequently. I’m a huge supporter of communication and yet I’m far from a perfect communicator. I still have plenty of times that I don’t know what to say or can’t find the right words, and of course there are the times when I put my foot in my mouth and the wrong thing comes out or nothing at all comes out. A part of adult communication is learning how to apologize and fix your mistakes going forward. But the other side of communication, and the one I want to talk about today, and in some ways helps with not knowing what to say, is about listening.

There are hundreds of references to listening in the Bible, from people overhearing things, to people listening to God, to God listening to people’s prayers. Listening is one of the hardest things for us to do because sometimes we do misunderstand or misinterpret what we hear and react accordingly (usually poorly), and of course if we’re really listening, we’re being quiet and not talking. But if everyone is talking and no one is listening we’ll never get anywhere or make any progress. We also can’t hear what God is saying if we’re too busy talking to listen.

Matthew 15:10 shares a really important insight on listening: “Then Jesus called to the crowd to come and hear. “Listen,” He said, “and try to understand.””

Listening isn’t about being perfect or getting it right all the time, but it does help move the whole communication process in the right direction. Listening shows that you actually care about what the other person is saying and are trying to understand what they’re saying. Part of the listening process is learning to ask questions and being brave enough to ask questions and get clarification when you’re just not sure about what’s going on or what they’re talking about. Which ultimately is exactly what communication is: a back-and-forth listening and talking exercise and opportunity.

I encourage you to do more listening this week, both in your times with God and with your times with other people. A little listening can go a long way.

How Do You Hear From God?

I think one of the biggest questions, challenges, concerns, or struggles people have when it comes to their faith, or any type of spiritual beliefs in general, has to do with hearing from God. If you ask someone of faith they will tell you that God has certainly had a hand in their lives, or that they can see God’s leading.
And yes, we’re able to pray directly to Him, we don’t have to go through an intermediary like a pastor or priest which makes it a lot more comfortable and encourages us to do it more often.

But let’s face it, saying prayers to God is not often the same as sitting down to have coffee with someone and having an actual conversation where there’s listening and speaking on both sides of the table. I say that it is rarely like that because throughout spiritual history there have been people who have spoken directly with God like Enoch, Samuel, Solomon, Jonah, and Saul/Paul from the Bible. And then there are people from more recent history who also had a close relationship and heard from God like Smith Wigglesworth, Mother Teresa, and Billy Graham, just to name a few of the more well-known people.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with God guiding us through means other than words, I will always take that over nothing at all, but there’s something so much more personal, powerful, intimate and real about hearing actual words. It’s kind of like how you can connect with someone on social media and message back and forth, but unless you meet them in person or talk on the phone/skype, you’re not really positive they’re a real person or who they say they are.

I don’t think it’s impossible to actually talk with/hear from God, and since God is all powerful He’s certainly able to talk with anyone (or everyone) at any time. But most of us don’t take the time to develop the relationship with Him that would encourage Him to speak directly to us in that way (although He certainly can speak to you that way to get your attention as He did Paul/Saul who He didn’t have a relationship with).  And while He could speak to us all with words, it might make Him seem less divine or people would feel like they’re more equal with Him, which wouldn’t be a good thing.

So what do you do if you want to hear (more) from God? Read your Bible, make time to pray and talk with God on a very regular basis, and be open to His leading and the changes of your plans. God may choose to speak words through someone else that you need to hear, He may make your path obvious in another way, He may touch your heart with an impression or direction, and He may speak to you directly with words. I believe God speaks today, and He wants to speak to each of us, it’s a question of whether we are truly listening or not.

Reality Reflection: Present Today

With as much as goes on in the world and online in this day and age, sometimes it’s not about having the best idea or doing something specific, but just about showing up. People have been standing in Hong Kong not technically doing anything and not sharing ideas, just being there, visibly showing that they exist and want to be heard. You may not have the most exciting job in the world, but your continued persistence in doing a good job day in and day out may make all the difference in the world for your company, and for your career advancement. You and your partner may not have large amounts of money or go on really extravagant dates, but lots of communication and just being together can make your relationship healthier and thrive more than many others.

Whether we’re talking family parties, holiday gatherings, or charity/non-profit events, you don’t have to know how you’re going to help get things ready or cleaned up, or the opportunities or happenings while you’re there, you just have to show up willing to help and participate and be your wonderful self.

Everyone has room for improvement, and yes, some of us do go through experiences and seasons of our lives where we have to go through major changes and overhauls that are painful, challenging and/or more extreme than the average person or family.  But often that improvement amounts to some tweaks and general age/maturity related growth, not major life changes, and for many of us just showing up and making the gradual changes that life prompts is more than enough for us to thrive in our lives and have great relationships.

Whether you’ve got a list of things to get done today or you’re just taking it easy, choose to be present with the people you meet, the places you go, the things you’re feeling and experiencing and the world around you.   Put down your phone, look around you, don’t worry too much about what’s in the past or future and just live in the moment and what is going on here and now.

“You don’t need a plan; you just need to be present.” Bob Goff

Reasons to Listen

As we finish another month and head into a new one this week, one that’s often thought of as the month of back-to-school, today I want to talk about a topic that’s crucial to learning: listening. Listening is one of the most powerful and crucial skills we can learn. It can make or break our relationships. It can be the deciding factor in whether or not someone accepts an invitation to a spiritual event. Listening can be what helps you get that promotion at work or sets you back several positions. Listening can mean that you continue on the path God has for your life or you have to keep re-learning tough lessons. Listening means people feel valued and important. Let’s take a look at a few things the Bible has to say about listening.

“Those who love your instructions have great peace and do not stumble.” Psalm 119:165
This verse is a pretty straightforward one: if we want a smooth path and peace, we have to follow God’s instruction, and the only way we can know His instruction is if we listen to Him. We’re welcome to try and figure it all out on our own, but why would we when we’ve got God who’s willing to give us hints and sometimes tell us flat out which way to go.

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Psalm 116:1-2
This set of verses is an important reminder that God listens to us. As much as we’re supposed to listen to Him and learn from His wisdom, He’s also not only willing to listen to us, He’s eager for us to talk to Him.

“I praise God for what He has promised….” Psalm 56:4a
Throughout the Bible God promises us some pretty awesome things, but this verse reminds us that the only way we can know what God promised is to listen to and for those promises. It’s also a reminder that God does have good things for us in our future, we just have to listen for them and work towards them.

“You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:67
Of course this is one of the best reasons to work on listening: eternal life. If we didn’t listen to the call of God in our hearts, if we didn’t listen to that friend who invited us to Church, if we didn’t listen to the speaker at that rally or summer church camp, or if not for that missionary, we wouldn’t know God or have eternal life.

So how good of a listener are you? How often do you follow through on what you hear? How often do you remember what you hear? Do you make a point of actually listening to what people are saying? This week I encourage you to work on being a better listener. Not only will you get to hear some great stories, you may learn about some of the reasons that God’s got you in the place you are at this time.

Taking Time to Listen

Given the events of the last week as well as the big meeting between two world powers happening somewhere half way around the world, today I thought we’d take a look at the words of Proverbs 8:33: “Listen to my instruction and be wise. Don’t ignore it.”

My heart hurts whenever someone chooses to end their life before God has determined it’s their time. The world lost two public figures last week to suicide, Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. While we may never know what truly caused them to make that decision, many who choose suicide do so because they don’t have hope, don’t believe life could get better, don’t feel heard or have been so beaten down they can’t take it anymore. Statistics show that on average over 100 people choose suicide each day, which is a really scary number, and means there are thousands of hurting families out there.

The Bible teaches us that we should love our neighbors, that we should be giving and support each other, that we should look out for women and children, to trust that the God who knows the petals on a flower and all the creatures of the sea could look out for the little details of our lives, and that God has a plan for good for our lives. But these are not assurances that everyone knows because not everyone knows the Bible.

These aren’t just spiritual messages, they’re life messages. Anyone can love, listen and be compassionate, regardless of race, sex, age, location, or language. Are you taking the time to listen to the people in your life? To the ways they’re trying to help you and things they’re trying to tell you? I encourage you to choose love and compassion this week, to stop and listen when people speak, to make time to listen to what God is trying to tell you, and make time for those who are most important to you.

Let’s Be More This Year

I was thinking today about what would make this year better or how to make this year better, avoiding the usual ‘lose weight’ and ‘set goals’ comments you’ll hear at this time of the year. They are great things to think about, but both are kind of vague and often feel like a losing battle or constant tug-of-war. So I thought about what would make my life better this year and what would make the world around me a little (or a lot) better, and is doable for everyone to see victories, and here’s what I came up with:

Be more patient-even just taking an extra 20 seconds to park the car, drive to a destination, meet with someone, listen to my partner, do the job right, or not rush the results can make a big difference to yourself and someone else.

Listen more-we’ve gotten really good at talking and we’ve got more ways than ever to express ourselves, which is great. But if we listened more we’d have fewer issues, better understand each other and be able to make more happen.

Enjoy more-we’re so blessed to be in the world at this time, there are so many great opportunities and so many ways to experience the world. In line with the first idea it’s about more than trying to cram all the stuff you can into this life, but about taking time to savor and appreciate.

Have a better attitude-we can’t avoid all the issues in the world or the fact that things will go wrong, but I think we can learn to approach life better and treat each other better, or at least reserve judgments on each other until the evidence has really proven guilt, and be willing to forgive and let people make a new start.

Take action-dreams and ideas are great, but they can’t be successful if we don’t make a plan and put it into action to fulfill the dreams and make the ideas turn into reality. If we worked to take just one more action each day we’d accomplish more this year than possibly in years past.

Love more-I don’t know anyone who puts on their ‘to do’ list to hate more people, and yet that’s how it seems to go. Each year we’re faced with more examples of people hurting others in a variety of ways, some that come to light from years past and some that happen as the year continues. Loving doesn’t mean you have to like or appreciate everything about someone but it means that you’re willing to see the person for more than your personal opinions or preferences or what you might see as flaws.

What are you going to do or be this year?

Concise Communications

Our conversations about listening this month have really reminded me about the value of being a good communicator. If you’re really a good listener you’ll know how to ask questions that clarify what someone else is talking about, you’ll know how to talk to others in a way that doesn’t offend but still communicates your point, you’ll know how to communicate something in a concise but not too brief fashion and you’ll know when to shut up. Presentations, events and speeches aside, the majority of what we do should be listening and thinking. Why? Because there’s lots of things being said in the world and too many aren’t helpful and only add to the overall noise.

As you can tell I’m a writer, and I love to think and talk about communication. Whenever an issue is brought up by a client about a situation in their life or business one of my first questions is about something communication related, because all too often it’s a lack of communication or a miscommunication that created or exacerbated the issue. Of course communication does largely depend on being able to speak the same language and understand each other, two things that are prevalent challenges in our world, whether you’re a police officer trying to take a report or a parent trying to understand your son/daughter who has autism.

I’ve read many a book or article and heard some speeches that I’ve thought were too short and definitely could have been longer (or I would have enjoyed the story continuing). But I’ve also run into a few books, some articles, and too many speakers that run on and on and I’m exhausted by the time they’ve finished, if I even made it that far. Which is what we’re focusing on today, the value of using fewer rather than more words. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t completely explain the situation or that it’s OK to talk in one and two word sentences (if you can call them that).

We all can work on learning how to communicate in a way that gets our point across, answers the question, is polite to those listening, doesn’t wander or go on many tangents, doesn’t waste precious time, and takes into account the very short attention span of many people. God has given us the ability to speak and communicate with each other, are you respecting and honoring Him with your words?

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27