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Barefoot and Preaching: Learning to take in the words that I need

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  • July 4, 2018

I love words. They flow constantly from my head to my heart, spill out of my mouth with laughter, make sense of my world.  And sometimes, words fail. They take the air from my lungs or hit me in the face. Sometimes, there isn’t sense to be made. 

We have more access to information than any generation before us, and this does not necessarily make us more informed. When questions come up around our dinner table, they can be answered in seconds. We have very little practice in staying with our curiosity and even less in holding on to a question.

Social media has added a new layer to our understanding and created a world where everyone is entitled to my opinion, a shift from the older assertion that everyone is entitled to their opinion.  When someone expresses an opinion, we frequently move very quickly toward assigning the speaker with responsibility for how we feel about it. It is a dangerous game we are playing with words these days.

I have received many words from many people in the last year and a half. Miscarriage, unemployment and a murder in our family have provided a fascinating sample of the things that people say when things are awful. 

“I’m so sorry.” 

Me too. 

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.” 

Actually, I don’t believe God gives us garbage or deals out the good stuff. Life is a gift and He gave us free will, so we have to put up with the garbage alongside the grace. And so does He.

“Things happen for a reason.” 

I cannot imagine a reason that would make the circumstances of the last year OK. Things happen. Unimaginable, terrible, awful things. And I am grateful I am not alone and that good things happen, too.

“There are no words, or I wish I knew what to say to make it better.”

Thanks for showing up. I’ve also got nothing.

Here’s the thing. On any given day, all the words are insufficient. And I could choose to take offence. But every single person who has offered words has done so with an intention to offer their support. In situations where there is no sense to be made, so many beautiful people have shown up anyway.

I get to choose how to receive the people and their words. Sometimes what they offer is exactly what I need, a word or phrase that eases the pain. Usually, they have no idea that what they said was what I needed. 

And sometimes, the words threaten to reopen the wound. But I know now that those words aren’t for me. They are for someone else, and if I let them fly by me, perhaps they will find the person who needs them. I can receive the care without the words.

I am learning to take in what I need. The rest was never meant for me. God will satisfy me if I will let Him give me just and only what I need, from wherever it comes. The practice is working for loss and grief, and it works for the rest of my life, too.

When my three-year-old throws a fit, she is reminding me that she needs me. I can take in the beauty of her need without reacting to her intensity. The angry words were never for me.

The news comes on the radio and another disaster comes reeling into my world. I need to be connected to the suffering in my world and I whisper prayers for hope and peace. Then I shut off the radio and keep the endless words of commentary from pulling me into a sinkhole. I’m not strong enough to carry those words. They must be for someone else.

When I shop for groceries, I work hard not to buy more than what we need. I do not want to waste the gift of food. It never occurred to me not to hoard words, to simply leave some hanging in the atmosphere. They can stay there for as long as they like. The ones I need will haunt me.  The words can be manna in the desert.

It is a curious thing to face my reactions to the endless words with a question, a question that seasons of ease did not teach me to ask: “What is it that I need right now?” I need grace and comfort, empathy and compassion, time and company. 

All of that is usually behind the words if I listen deeply. I don’t have to feel guilty about taking in only what I need, when I need it. 

(Perrault works in Catholic health care in Saskatoon and writes and speaks about faith. Her website is leahperrault.com)

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