A new year at our house always brings some quiet moments for reflection. You all know by now that reflection time for me always results in a long post! Here it is.
A couple years ago, I read about the idea of focusing on a word each year. I was curious about the concept, so I prayed about it and God brought a single word to mind. The word was 'Listen'.
January 2021, that word got written on a fresh page in my journal. I wasn't sure what to do with it initially, but as the days passed, I started intentionally seeking God about the concept of listening. At first I assumed I needed to work on listening to others better. Turned out it was definitely part of it, but without even realizing it, I was creating a habit of going to God and listening for His direction about the concept of listening! I had been practicing intentionally listening to God for several years at that point, but I love how He knew I needed to grow more in my ability to listen and hear Him personally before He started to teach me about listening to others. I couldn't pass on what I hadn't first received.
As the months passed, we slowly started unpacking why listening didn't always come easy for me. I had recognized for a long time that I was a great listener if the situation was one in which I felt in control. However, if someone argued or was accusatory towards me, I would get defensive and then would stop listening and get busy verbally arguing my point of view. This happened in my marriage, in parenting, in family relationships that were strained, and even spilled over into some of my friendships. I learned that my tendency to defend myself came from a deep fear of being wrong. I grew up believing the lie that my value and worth came from being right. I worked very hard to do things "right" and to always have the "right" answer. But how does one stop oneself from feeling the need to defend oneself?
The answer? You don't. And this was the next step of learning to listen. Until I fully accepted the truth that I was already accepted, valued and loved perfectly by the One who designed me, I would always feel the need to prove my own worth. On the flip side, as I began to accept that I was already completely loved and accepted, I found myself able to sit and listen when someone else was having a hard time. I started to see people differently. When someone disagreed with me, I was able to ask curious questions rather than defend myself. I was free to actually care about them as a person and not make the discussion all about me and my perceived need to be right. And finally, I was free to be open to the idea that maybe I wasn't always right. And that was okay. True freedom is being able to say, "I was wrong", or "I had never considered that" and learn from another.
This has been life-changing for me and for many of my relationships. I still get triggered, some days more often than I'd prefer. Old ways of thinking and reacting take time to heal. But, there is so much hope and healing is happening!
Funny story...when January 2022 rolled around last year, I was listening for a new word for the year. To my surprise, I wasn't given a new word. 'Listen' was still the word. So, this past year, I have continued to dig deeper into what it means to really listen. As I have accepted the truth that I have nothing to prove, my ability to listen has grown so much.
This past year, this concept of listening grew to encompass more than simply listening to God and intentionally listening to others. While I have continued to grow in both those areas, I started digging deep into listening when I was out in nature, enjoying all the beauty there is to hear. I have been learning about listening to my animals. There is a depth of relationship available between me and all our animals that I had never realized before.
I have been learning to really listen to myself; another concept that used to be foreign to me. Listening to my body and making choices that support what I physically need and not just what is convenient or easy in the moment. Things like proper rest, good fuel at mealtimes, daily movement, fresh air, pursing passions, learning new things, etc. And then there is the whole concept of listening to my soul: what am I thinking about, feeling, reacting to, choosing? In listening to what is going on inside myself, I am learning that true change only happens when I start to allow Truth to change my mind about what I believe.
Behavior always follows belief (thanks Janet Newberry for that thought!), so my behavior won't change until my beliefs change. And my beliefs won't change for the good until I am willing to actually stop and listen to the One who is Truth, allowing Him to exchange the lies that are buried deep in my mind for the truth. If we get the order mixed up, trying to change outward behaviors without ever addressing the belief driving those behaviors, we will find ourselves stuck on an endless cycle of defeat and discouragement. So grateful to have been shown the way off that hamster wheel!
A few weeks ago, I started praying and listening for a new word, curious if 2023 would be another year of digging even deeper into the concept of listening or if the focus was going to change. Last week, I was gifted with a new word. Freedom.
I smiled to myself when it came to mind. Of course Freedom is the new word. Freedom is what I have already been discovering as I have grown in my ability to listen. Freedom is the natural result of learning and walking in the Truth.
I have already experienced so much freedom in my life in the past 8 years or so, as Conrad and I have been on this journey of unlearning everything we thought we knew about God and relationship, and relearning the truth about who God is and who we really are.
This week I am stepping into the New Year fully aware that I have already been gifted complete freedom in Jesus. I can't get anymore freedom because He has already given it to me in full measure!
"It is for freedom that Christ set you free". Galatians 5:1
However, I am looking ahead with so much anticipation as I know this year is going to be about learning in deeper ways how to enjoy the freedom I have already been given.
Freedom from shame, guilt, other people's opinions, my own expectations, fear, making mistakes, etc. I know there is going to be so much more, and as the lessons come I hope to share them here.
So, Happy New Year, friends!
May the year ahead be one of discovering freedom for you as well.