Welcome to another installment of the Listen Close, Listen Well series. Let’s give a warm welcome to today’s special guest, Ashley Hales, a talented writer and poetic soul.
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. Her writing has appeared in such places as Books & Culture, ThinkChristian, (in)courage and SheLoves Magazine. She is a contributing monthly editor at The Mudroom and a member of Redbud Writers Guild. She writes at: www.aahales.com. Get free story therapy when you subscribe to her blog.
When Listening Feels Like a Luxury
By Ashley Hales
Listening closely and listening well seem a luxury most days. There is dinner to be made, the witching hour to get through, homework and at least one child meltdown to navigate. I tally up the time it takes to get to and from baseball, the groceries that need buying and preciously guard any alone time in the process. We blast music for our youth to redirect the crazy into laughter, whoops and hollers, and the silly dancing you can do when you know you are loved.
But these are just ways to calm the chaos. They do not automatically help us to lean in.
If I’m going to listen, I need less noise and to purposefully create room.
When I am empty, my eyes roam. My body reaches out for the quick fix: the caffeine, the sugar rush, the endless scrolling on social media. My fingers are curved into a phone shape and my thumb keeps pushing upwards – my body enacting the thought that all the Facebook photos, the witty Twitter sayings, and the pretty succulents on Instagram will fill the empty.
But I know, of course, that social media does not fill up empty, tired, worn out spaces in the soul. So I do the hard, unseen, unnoticed work. I’m throwing out sugar, deleting social media on my phone, not because these are bad things but I am losing my ability to be moderate in their usage. Detox programs are for the sick, and we all choose our poisons. Mine just look socially acceptable.
It is, of course, not simply about removing apps and jellybeans, but also about taking on life-giving habits. Making room is re-inscribing liturgies in my heart. I’m quick to think that new habits will save me. If the caffeine won’t do it, then I just need to buckle down, check off my devotional time, and vow to put my phone down and always speak gently to my children.
I trade one noose for another.
I’m attempting to do the harder work. The breathing. The sitting. The closing of my computer and talking a walk in the sunshine. It’s the unseen discipline of making room and clearing out mental and physical clutter in the audacious hope that something better will take its spot. That God will fill up all the empty spots in my flesh and soul.
So I clear out space and I wait.
I watch my 2-year-old’s heavy-footed run, my 4-year-old running around the baseball game barefooted with his Batman cape and mask. I lean in to my 7-year-old’s need to be held even when I want to squirm for personal space. At bedtime in a moment of quiet, I caress the forehead of my 8-year-old son, the boy who is becoming bigger before my eyes. These are the people before my eyes, under my nose, whose words matter more than what the people say on the Internet about my writing.
I notice. I breathe. I lean in to the small and I expect that a God who knows my name, who has “engraved me on the palms of his hands” will draw near, too. That all my gaping spaces will be filled.
I lean in and wait.
P.S. Get caught up on the other “Listen Close, Listen Well” posts below:
Not Ours to Give Away by Tiffany Parry
Lean In My Daughters by Kerrington Sweeney
Listening When It’s Loud by Teri Lynne Underwood
Fear and Doorknobs by Kim Osterholzer
What God Wants by Crystal Hall
Preparing a Place by Abby Banfield