Do you have a favorite place where your heart just sings while there? I have a couple — Napa Valley, California and Conception Abbey in Missouri. A strange combination, yes. But oh, how I love both!
Joel and I recently participated in a spiritual retreat for deacons and their wives at one of those locations … Conception Abbey. Not in wine country, yet a place full of good spiritual “fruit.” (NW Missouri is fabulous in summer, people!) When we traveled to the Abbey monthly for four years during Joel’s deacon formation, I received regular doses of spiritual rejuvenation. I will forever be grateful to the monks for showing me how to better know Jesus through anchoring my day in prayer. But those trips stopped four years ago after Joel was ordained, and I recognize an absence from this holy place is likely part of the “dry bones” feelings I’ve struggled with the lately.
This most recent retreat, however, was not led by one of the monks. Rather, Dr. Tom Neal led us into a deep discussion on building schools of prayer within our homes, parishes, schools, communities. Tom and his family once lived in Des Moines and they have since settled in New Orleans where Dr. Neal now serves as the Director of Intellectual Formation for the Notre Dame Seminary. Our diocese brought him in last summer to lead us as well. I took copious notes and will likely spend a good deal of time unpacking both the content of what he shared as well as how the Holy Spirit moved within me throughout the weekend.
There is one particular point saturating my thoughts right now that I’d like to share. It’s this: my vocational call as a deacon’s wife is to truly listen to others. I know that may sound boringly simple. Please allow me to explain a bit more as it’s a great message for all.
Dr. Neal shared this image to get us thinking.
Sure enough, a quick mental letter swap proves listen and silent are indeed spelled with the same letters! During our retreat we talked about the necessary place silence has in our life, especially our prayer life. Most of us know this to be true. But how many are actually well versed in the sanctifying practice of silence? Many of us wives and deacons in attendance admitted a struggle.
Our conversation turned toward the importance of listening. Some random notes in my journal:
- Humans are made to reveal ourselves to each other.
- My posture with others should be that I listen far more than I speak.
- Guard in silence what you hear in silence.
- Become a better listener in life, you will become a better listener in prayer.
Tom shared a story from a woman who’s spent thirty years as a marriage and family therapist. She theorizes that at the root of the mental illness plaguing our culture is a lack of silence and our culture’s overall inability to listen and hear each other. The therapist says she counsels people all the day long, not doling out advice, just listening to people and affirming their struggles.
Another story to paint the picture. Tom’s father was Russian Orthodox, and in that faith tradition the Church raises up specific women as “matushkas.” That is, women viewed as little mothers who serve the people through an elevated role of listening. People seek out these women when they desire counsel and a need to talk through life issues.
As I processed it all, I felt a movement, a convicting thought, wash over me. My role as a deacon’s wife flashed before me. No need to ever again wonder if I’m doing enough, serving the right areas, supporting my husband in a Godly manner, whatever, whatever, whatever.
Lisa, your call as a deacon’s wife is to listen to the people I place before you.
Got it. I’m reminded of a line in Gilead, the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Marilynne Robinson.
When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you. So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?”
In the 50th World Day of Social Communications, Pope Francis said listening involves a sort of martyrdom or self-sacrifice because it means paying attention, wanting to understand, to value, to respect and to ponder what the other person says.
“Christians, as missionary disciples, must practice the ‘art of accompaniment’ which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other.” – Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 169
A spiritual friend and Christian life coach reminds me often about the importance of “floating the tongue.” It’s scripturally rooted in James 1:26 and James 3:1-13. Physically this involves relaxing your tongue inside your mouth (or floating) when listening to others. When your tongue is relaxed, it allows you to not always be thinking of the next thing you’re going to say and rather listen to truly listen. She offers these thoughts:
Because the human brain works to put all information into categories (boxes), we usually listen to respond, not to understand. We feel it ‘costs us something’ to wholly listen and understand without responding. But if ‘Christ in me, I am enough’ is a true reality, then there is no cost to us as He already paid our price! Get the tongue out of the way (James 1) and we become very different people and very good listeners and understanding of others.
There are approximately 2.2 billion Christians on this planet. If we all worked on “floating our tongues,” when we encounter others, we would change the world by how we love and cherish one another through listening. And you don’t need “deacon’s wife” in your bio to make it your mission.