Loving, Listening, and Writing

“The truth is that careful listening feels so much like love that most of us can hardly tell the difference.” –Dr. James Dobson

This quote was presented at a leadership meeting I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since. February is known as the month of love. We Americans spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and jewelry every February 14th in an effort to communicate our love for our children, our spouses, or other significant people in our lives. Yet, according to Dr. Dobson, careful listening is one of the most loving gifts we can give to our friends and families.

My daughter Brianna communicated her need for my focused attention, even as a toddler.  If I attempted to do household chores or work on my computer while she was telling me a story, she would say, “Listen to me with your eyes, Mommy.”  She had a speech impediment at the time, so it sounded more like, “Lithen to me wiff your eyes, Mommy.” She was adorable. She was also correct in her assessment that her mother was not actually listening to what she was saying. Whenever possible, I would walk away from my computer or put down my dusting cloth, look her in the eyes, and give my storytelling toddler my full attention as she talked.

When asked what command in God’s Word is most important, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 MSG).

We all like to know our thoughts have been heard. Carefully listening to the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others makes them feel validated and lets them know we value their ideas. It occurs to me that, as writers, careful listening will not only communicate love to the people we care about and enhance those relationships, but it will also improve our writing.

what did you say

Writing requires inspiration and inspiration requires input. Listening—really listening—to the people God places in our lives is a great way to spur fresh ideas. Children often have an amusing, unfiltered way of describing our world. Older adults, if we’ll take the time to listen, offer a wealth of knowledge and wisdom gained through their many life experiences. A husband brings perspective to an emotional topic. A wife enhances historical facts with empathy and compassion. Carefully listening to humanity—even strangers in a busy city park—can provide fresh ideas for a blog post or inspire a new twist in plot for a novel.

This February—the month when we talk a lot about love—let’s love like Jesus said we should. Let’s love our God with our passion and our prayers and with the intellect He has given us. Let’s love people by carefully listening to their thoughts and feelings. Keep a pen handy to jot down a quote or a blog post idea (after the conversation is over!), but be fully present as you interact with the people God has placed in your life. Listen to them with your eyes as well as with your ears.

Our relationships will be richer and we may even discover that our writing takes on new depth.

How has careful listening enhanced your relationships or your writing?

Living More Renewed in 2013

Did you make any resolutions for 2013?  Okay, now the convicting question, are you keeping them? Whether 2012 was a fruitful year for you, a dry, challenging season, or somewhere in between, the new year offers a fresh start—a new beginning filled with a renewed sense of hope for the future. However, our 2013 won’t look much different from past years unless we make some changes. Resolutions are often our way of acknowledging the aspects of our lives that need a little tweaking.

This year, I made a resolution to live life more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed through a greater commitment to prayer. Would you consider joining me in my quest to become stronger and more fully devoted to Jesus than ever before?

DaffodilsI must caution you that is just the kind of commitment the apostle Peter claimed to have before he denied His Lord three times.

Check out this adapted excerpt from my new Bible study on Peter—Eyewitness  to Majesty: Abandoning Self for Christ:

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them…”But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” –Mark 14:27-30

Peter was claiming greater allegiance to Jesus than that of all the other disciples. Just like many of us, Peter desperately wanted to be strong and fully devoted to Jesus. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was overwhelmingly weak.

Peter didn’t realize a test of his commitment was coming. Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. Grain is purified by sifting. In Jesus’ day, the grain was placed into large sieves that were shaken vigorously, allowing the grain to pass through. Undesirable pieces or weeds were left behind.  I believe a sifting by Satan occurs when everything in our lives is shaken to the point where we have nothing to cling to except our faith, but trials of any kind can bring about some level of spiritual sifting. We come through those circumstances stronger and some weeds, such as discontentment or pride, have often been sifted away.

Just before Jesus was arrested and then crucified on the cross, the Son of God knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to His Father in such agony that He was sweating blood.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” –Mark 14:37-38

Jesus was not just informing Peter of his weakness. Jesus Himself was being tempted to flee the cross. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. Jesus gained the strength He needed to overcome His flesh through prayer. If Jesus needed to pray to overcome temptation, don’t you think we should do the same?

Jesus’ sorrow overwhelmed Him to the point of death. Yet He was able to pray, “Not what I will, but what You will.” He got up from that prayer time strong and in total submission to God’s will. In contrast, Peter slept and rested while Jesus prayed. He had emphatically proclaimed he would not fall away. He wasn’t prepared for the sifting about to take place in his life. Jesus had warned him, yet Peter wasn’t listening. His spirit truly was willing, but his flesh was tragically weak.  Copyright © 2013 AMG Publishers, All Rights Reserved.

If Jesus needed to pray to overcome His flesh, we cannot possibly overcome temptation without prayer. Like Peter, our spirits may be willing, but our flesh is tragically weak.

To make prayer a priority this year, I’m setting two alarms to make sure I get up early enough to have my prayer time each morning. I’m also posting a prayer on my author Facebook page every Monday morning for accountability and to pray regularly with other believers. And finally, I’m meeting with three other women once a month for a time of focused prayer.

If you’re making a greater commitment to prayer, what are you doing to make that pledge a reality? Let’s live 2013 more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed—together.