INNER PEACE ON EARTH
Tis the season. The Christmas holiday is almost upon us, and most of us—myself included—are doing the dance. Again.
We shop. We decorate. We bake. We send cards (I don’t, sorry). We plan and attend parties. We eat. We hope we bought the right gifts for the right people in the right amounts. We wonder. We worry. We stress.
Then we wonder why we worry and stress. At least, I do.
I spent the day yesterday with a dear friend. A friend, who, while we are not close in the sense that we see each other often and talk frequently, we remain close. Months can go by, and we are able to—you guessed it—pick up where we left off.
Except this time things have changed since we left off. She is making some major life changes that, she reports, need to be made. I found this out when I called her last week, apropos of nothing. Just to talk.
It had been too long, and it was time to get together. I realized she needed to talk longer than the time we had on the phone, so we made plans for the weekend.
We shopped. We ate. We sipped. We puzzled and colored. We talked. We laughed. We shared. We understood.
Our day started with a one-hour car ride. She talked for most of that. I realized she needed to be heard, and I needed to listen. So, I did.
If life truly is a dance, then she is changing her steps. Changing them in a way she needed to for herself. Except her dance partners now don’t know her new dance, and they don’t like it very well. None of us want to be made fools of on the dance floor of life. So, while her new dance moves feel good to her, they have been met with disdain from the other partners. They don’t know these new moves.
Yet, she keeps dancing the new dance because she knows she cannot go back to the old one. It feels good to her. It feels like she is finally making peace inside herself, even if the dance partners feel like she is creating strife and waging war. She is going with it, and I am cheering her on.
As I write this Sunday morning, I am mentally cataloguing all the Christmas preparations I need to complete today.
*Shop online, maybe even go to town to a real store, even though I just did yesterday.
It is causing me a bit of stress. I really just want to take a nap.
It’s not supposed to be this way. It’s supposed to bring me tidings of comfort and joy. It is supposed to help me spread peace on earth. It is supposed to be a Holy Night, and a Holy Day as well. And I just want to rest ye, merry gentle-woman.
So, I am taking a moment to re-align. A few minutes to stop, look and listen, because I feel like I am doing all the talking here.
In my work as a speech language pathologist–a.k.a. speech therapist, we talk about the two-sided coin of expressive language and receptive language. When a person has a stroke, head injury or some other compromise to the brain, we assess how well they can express themselves mostly through speech, but also by writing and other non-verbal means. We also assess how well they receive information, mostly by listening, but also by reading and looking. They must be able to understand incoming information before they can process it and turn it into outgoing expression.
When most of us speak of communicating, we tend to focus on our expression primarily, and what our listeners understand secondarily. Both sides of the coin must be considered in effective communication.
In this Christmas season of busy-ness, bustle and hustle, perhaps more listening is what we all need. I know I do.
In my grade school Catholic education, I recall learning the four pillars of prayer:
1: Praise God
2: Give thanks.
3: Ask for forgiveness.
4: Ask for help.
This is a well-rounded formula for talking to God; it covers the bases of what we should say in prayer. However, I don’t recall learning that we should also flip the coin over and listen. Perhaps we were taught this, but clearly, I wasn’t listening.
No being—human or divine—enjoys a one-sided conversation. Who wants to listen to someone talk without ever listening? No one I know.
Be still, we are told in the Bible. That’s the tough part. Just sit still and listen. Some people call it meditation, but if that’s too woo-woo for you, then don’t call it that. It is, at its core, simply listening. Downloading information instead of constantly uploading. And there is a lot of good information out there, if we simply listen.
Whomever you pray to, in whatever fashion, whenever you do pray, don’t forget to also listen. That’s where the good stuff is.
Mom wanted us to live our lives by the Prayer of St. Francis. I’ve referred to it many times, and I will continue to refer to it in the future. It is the perfect prescription for a life well-lived.
In order to be this Instrument of Peace that Mom and St. Francis so kindly asked us to be, I have discovered in my efforts that in order to share this peace, one must first possess it. You can’t give away something you don’t have. Further, the best way I have found to possess this peace is to start by simply listening.
Listen to people. We don’t know what their lives look like on the inside, and listening is the only way we can determine how to best understand them so that we can share peace with them. I listened to my friend for the first hour yesterday so that I could formulate a response that would help her the most. She told me her story, and I told her mine. I shared my past struggles that I felt would help her with her current struggles, even though I have never walked in her shoes. I think it made her feel less alone.
Listen to your little voice inside. It is the voice of reason and intuition, and the older we get with more life experiences, it is ultimately the voice of wisdom. Don’t deny it or shush it. It may end up screaming to be heard if you do.
Listen when you pray. Whatever you believe in, in whatever way you choose to believe it, there is always wisdom greater than our own to be downloaded.
When I got ready to decorate for Christmas last week, I found myself stressed just looking at those totes we brought up from the basement. Four of them. Ugh.
So, I listened. I left a lot of it in the box instead of feeling obligated to put it up. I gave some of it away, too. I rearranged a few things. I cleared the coffee table and put up my favorite Jim Shore pieces, the artist who created the Thanksgiving angel I wrote about two weeks ago.
I have another angel he made with the Nativity scene on it. I put her on Mom and Dad’s table next to the Thanksgiving angel. It brought me peace.
I made it a little simpler this year, and it felt good. I have a little more peace inside to share now. I plan to keep going.
In Our Favorite Gifts of 2017 (December 31st, 2017), I wrote about the annual hand-made ornament I receive from the young boy I worked with for several years in private speech therapy. Although it had been more than a year since I had worked with him, I received a third one from him last year. Last week, there was another box from him at my door, over two years after we stopped working together. It is the first gift I have received this year, but I’m pretty sure it will be one of the best. He made it himself, from the heart, with appreciation and kindness. I’m sure his kind mother helped him send it. I treasure all four of the ornaments he has now made for me.
In the interest of privacy, his name is covered.
What will be the best gifts you give this year? Will it be the ones you purchased in a frantic mode, spending too much money and wondering if it will be the right one? The right size or color? The one you bought that will bring them joy all year? I doubt it. I think perhaps it will be the ones that aren’t bought.
Perhaps it will be the gift of listening to a friend who needs to be heard. Maybe you will take them to dinner, or better yet, cook for them. Maybe it will be the permission you gave yourself to decorate less, or maybe spend less. Maybe you will give away a possession of personal value to someone you know would enjoy it more than you do. Maybe you will buy yourself something you know you need and/or want, and very likely deserve. Perhaps you will even create some new dance steps for yourself that you know you need to make, even if your dance partner(s) don’t like it. Maybe you will create a home-made gift from the heart like the young boy does for me every year.
Perhaps it will be a gift to yourself of listening when you pray. Maybe you will forgive someone, which turns out to be a buy-one-get-one gift, because in the end, forgiveness benefits you more than them.
When January comes and the holidays are gone, we should start preparing for the holidays again—in our hearts. Christmas should not be one day in one month within one season. If the true spirit of Christmas is to be celebrated, is should be within us every day of every month of every year. If we can make peace within, we can share it with everyone else all year.
If you are unable to celebrate with your loved ones at Christmas, have a celebration later and call it Christmas. Or whatever you want to call it, as long as you treasure the time spent with them.
There will be no Sister Lode post for the next few weeks. I am taking some time to celebrate with my family, taking some time off work, and probably taking more naps.
I plan to do a lot of listening.
Me, middle sister Kathleen at Christmas, circa 1972. I asked Gail and Suzanne for Christmas pictures, but no luck.
Merry Christmas from Gail, Kathleen and Suzanne, the sisters of The Sister Lode. Peace on Earth, starting with peace within.
I took that nap after lunch, and started on the cookies. I had my Christmas cards stacked on a pile on the counter as I mixed. This one was on the top of the stack. It came from the young boy who makes my annual ornament; every member of his family signed it. Its message is exactly what I am trying to say, too.