“Words that are few in number but deep in fullness rise up from a heart that has examined and distilled its motives and given up trying to push itself forward or win over others.”JAN JOHNSON
A good nugget of wisdom I heard early on about Lent is that it isn’t only about abstaining from something, but adding something as well.
I really love these recent words from Tsh Oxenreider, who released a book about Lent this year.
“We fast to prepare ourselves for something better, and that something better, in this particular season, is Eastertide. We remember that all our stupid vices and eye-roll-worthy legalism don’t best us because Christ conquered death and we now have the grace to make it through life, day after day after day. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We get to be free. Fasting makes us freer to be ourselves, the true selves we’re meant to be: people full of humility, temperance, chastity, love, meekness, and diligence. Will we screw up? Absolutely. But that’s okay, because it won’t kill us if we let Jesus do the work.”
God offers us deep, rich life, and we have a seat at the feast that can never be removed. Lent offers us an opportunity to ask God what is cluttering our hearts, distracting our minds and burdening our shoulders… and open ourselves up to receive what He wants to give us.
Ruth Haley Barton has a refreshing take on this also…
Unfortunately, the practice of entering into the Lenten season has often been reduced to the question: “What are you giving up for Lent?” This is a fine question, but it can only take us so far. The real question of the Lenten season is: How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart? This begs an even deeper question: Where in my life have I gotten away from God and what are the disciplines that will enable me to find my way back?
When I spent some time jotting down scattered thoughts as I pondered Ruth’s question, only one thing bubbled to the surface. How will I find ways to return to God with all my heart? I will practice listening better… listening as Jesus listened.
It is James who admonishes us to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I created a wallpaper for my Apple watch to be a constant reminder of my goal: QTL, STS.
I’m a frequent interrupter. A nervous word-vomiter. An impulsive speaker. An external processor. (Not self-shaming, just giving you the facts, friend-reader.)
Turns out, focusing on listening better revealed other things. Like how slowwwwwing conversations down, it created more space to ask God what someone might need or how I uniquely encourage them or if He had anything He wanted them to know that I could voice, instead of me rushing ahead with what I think is best. This practice also prompted me to look at how Jesus interacted with people. Even during hours of busyness, healing, teaching, etc, Jesus was great at paying attention to the person in front of Him. I believe He trusted His Father to lead and provide, so He was present when interrupted and He was attentive to the need before Him. He wasn’t rushed. He wasn’t unhurried.
It tweaked my conversational life with God because I began applying quick to listen, slow to speak with Him as well. Asking questions. Being quiet. Resisting my normal posture of “I have to be doing and saying the right thing to experience the presence of God.” He’s present with me whether I’m speaking or not, He has promised that. He’s good, kind, and generous because it’s who He is. My impressing Him with good words or right thoughts does little to increase His delight in me. So I learned a new kind of inner rest.
It also showed me how challenging being a great listener is but how significant it can be. To not be thinking about what I want to say next instead of letting a friend arrive at a conclusion themselves before I respond, to not be wondering how I am being perceived instead of making sure the other person feels prioritized and seen. To not be trying to project a particular image of myself with my words — funny, helpful, insightful — instead of being hidden in Christ and getting out of the way so He could perhaps be experienced and seen.
I like what Jan Johnson, in her book Abundant Simplicity, writes after encountering a similar struggle and desire in herself over her words: “I found that simplicity and gentleness of speech—using fewer words and speaking slowly—made it more likely that my words would “impart grace to the hearers” (Eph 4:29). I could inwardly feel that speaking in this succinct, straightforward manner was developing patience and kindness in me as I limited my efforts and relied on the Lord to shepherd me in each situation. To my surprise, people also heard me better. They thought I actually meant what I said because I said so little.”
What I thought would only be a practice for Lent has turned out to be an incredibly meaningful change in my heart and life, and while I’m much more aware than I was in March, I’m far from where I’d love to be. But I’m really glad to be on this new path.
Experiments with Simplicity of Speech | Jan Johnson, via
- Write, think or talk with a friend about the two words you would like to be used to describe your speech. Pray for that.
- Try not to speak at all for a certain period of time. This might be a day or morning or just an hour of solitude away from pressures and demands. You might hike or go to an art gallery, browse in a favorite bookstore or walk across a bridge that has always fascinated you.
- Plan your next foray into small talk—at the bus stop, for example, or during greeting time at church. How might you welcome a stranger but not indulge yourself in talk that is not helpful and necessary?
- Pray to become the kind of person whose talk demonstrates the Spirit’s power instead of clever eloquence (1 Cor 2:2-5).
- Ask God as you begin each day this week to help you love and respect others through simple, helpful speech. Consider the people you’ll see whom you’re likely to “run over” with words—to convince them of something, because they routinely run over you, or because they love you so much they let you run over them. You might think about this in the shower or as you tie your shoes.
- Conduct a three-, ten- or thirty-day experiment with abstaining from a speech practice, such as interrupting others or yelling at a rude driver, and replacing it with a grin or the words “Bless you.” Pay attention to what goes on inside you immediately afterward.
- Try to answer a question today with a simple yes or no. Listen to what happens inside.
- Think about who you are most likely to interrupt. Why is that? How might you pray for that person now when he or she isn’t in front of you?
- For one week, do not give your opinion unless asked, give advice unless asked or have the last word in a discussion.