With all the craziness going on in 2020, I must admit that I didn’t feel like coming up with a word for 2021 at all. I was seriously considering skipping it—unless something became clear. I did pray about it, but just wasn’t very motivated to listen. Oops! That reminds me of my word for 2020—LISTEN. Let me begin with a summary of what I learned by focusing on listening this past year.
I admit that I still have a long way to go to becoming a better listener, but I did learn something from my grandsons. They (with their mom and dad) moved to Raleigh in August, partially so I could babysit since my daughter and son-in-law were working remotely but no longer had local childcare available.
My 3-year-old grandson taught me that sometimes we need to ignore the words and listen to the heart. Sometimes, angry words actually mean I’m frustrated… or sad… or scared, or I need to know that you love me more than anything. My grandson and I have special one-on-one time together after little brother goes down for his nap. We do exactly what he wants to do with no interference from destructive little 1-year-old hands. Then we move upstairs to read “a ton, a ton of books.” When we finish all the books, it’s time for him to rest and me to go home. Without fail, he gets up, goes to his window, and asks if he can watch me leave and wave to me. I say of course, but it will take a few minutes. I talk to his mom a bit, go to the kitchen to gather up my lunch things, put away a few toys, put on my shoes and coat, then go out to the car. As I back out of the garage and into the street (sometimes a full 10 minutes later), there’s my grandson’s sweet little face still poised behind a windowpane with his two little hands pressed against the glass. When he sees me, his fingers start to move in a fluttering wave, then they turn and touch his mouth to blow kisses. It brings tears to my eyes just writing this down. There is nothing sweeter in the world than to be loved like that!
My 1-1/2 year-old grandson has also taught me a thing or two about listening. He really wants to communicate like everyone else, and he gets extremely frustrated by the fact that we cannot understand him. He keeps repeating himself, but we still don’t get it. He resorts to screaming for what he wants before we (sometimes) hit upon the right thing. I am trying very hard (as we all are) to understand his what he means and not just plug my ears and walk away. I guess that’s a good lesson to learn for today’s political climate.
But now it’s time to move on to 2021 and the word that popped into my mind on the last day of 2020. It’s not often that a “word” suddenly comes to mind and immediately is the one, but that’s what happened this year. My word for 2021, whether I like it or not, is SPEAK.
Of course, it’s the perfect follow-up to LISTEN, so I guess I should have thought of it earlier. But the truth is that I don’t like to speak. In fact, I didn’t even start talking until I was 5 years old. The doctors told my parents I COULD speak, but I just didn’t want to. So, they put me in kindergarten, and I talked because I had to (I guess–I don’t remember). However, I never really liked speaking, especially in front of crowds. And growing up in an environment where children were meant to be seen, not heard, and girls/women were meant to be quiet and submissive, I was frankly (and still am to be honest) afraid to speak. That system of silence suited me just fine and often still does.
Much of the listening I did in 2020 came through books, prayer, meditation, and Bible studies with various groups in my church. I’ve been going through The Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster, in which we are spending a month on each of 12 Christian disciplines. So far, we’ve done meditation, prayer, fasting, and study. January’s discipline is simplicity, which I’m really looking forward to.
I’ve also read numerous books on racial and social justice, and was very convicted by two books written by Joan Chittister – Radical Spirit and The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage. These books are a call to speak up against injustice AND act in a way to bring about justice. I highlighted about half the book, but these words sum it up quite well:
“We cannot see injustice and say nothing, do nothing. Not if we are really to be authentically spiritual rather than simply pious actors in the game called ‘church.’”
I was also recently influenced by Beth Moore, whose Bible studies I’ve enjoyed over the years. However, it’s been her Twitter feed that has made me convinced that she is a present-day prophet. John Ruskin wrote, “If our spirituality is real, if our hearts are true, seeing demands a prophetic response. If our souls are the souls of a prophet, wherever we are, we stand up and speak a word of God in behalf of justice, peace, and the poor. Whatever the price we pay for doing it.”
Moore has repeatedly not been afraid to speak up, even when she generates wrath from her faith community. When she tweeted in December that Trumpism is seductive and dangerous, she was immediately attacked by “good” Christians calling her all sorts of evil names and cursing her womb. No, I am not making this up! But what really impressed me was her response. She didn’t just ignore it, and she didn’t come back with equally hateful things. She responded with a truthful but humorous response: “PS. To those who have gone so far as to curse my womb, I had a hysterectomy 11 years ago. Just saving you some time.”
So, for 2021, my word is SPEAK, and I plan to thoughtfully speak up for justice and love even when it makes me uncomfortable or makes friends or family angry. I have actually already had a few experiences practicing my voice, and it hasn’t always been pretty. But, practice makes perfect, right?
Here’s to a new year where I hope we can we join together to see and speak truth, particularly “in behalf of justice, peace, and the poor,” and then do something about it.