Learning to Listen

"I just feel like the way opened. That the path just cleared and brought me here."

I overheard someone at work say that this week. It was odd to hear it coming from someone who is not Quaker. And it made me a little angry to hear. Not because she used the phrase and certainly not because she feels like she is in a wonderful place, the right place for her. I am happy she feels so blessed. However, what made me angry was that I don’t feel that way right now. I feel like I am trapped at work and I hate my job. [Please keep in mind that while my office is in the same space as the person I overheard we work for two very different employers.]

I wish the way would open for me. But I think I don’t let myself be open to the spirit or its whispering in my life. I fight what whispers of the spirit do make their way to my ears and mind. I take the easy path when it comes to work. I go with what seems to be a stable job, a sure bet. And usually, I end up miserable. I don’t know what I want to do professionally. I just feel like I am supposed to work and work hard. Take sensible jobs that will pay the bills.

Yet, all I have gotten from this mentality is feeling burnt out, unappreciated, and resentful. I am resentful that I didn’t have the guts to take other positions. I am resentful towards people who are happy with their career choices. I work hard doing work that no one else will do on our project because it needs to be done and I don’t want to let down the people we are doing this research for. I put in a lot of work and I rarely get acknowledgement or even treated like a competent individual by my boss.

It has occurred to me that unless I open myself to the spirit and let it move through my life. To truly open myself to being a vessel to do God’s work I will probably not be blessed to have the way opening. I will not find myself in a place where I am happy and know with certainty that that is exactly where I need to be—until I am open to the leading of God.

It was my hope last year to go to meeting regularly. To work on nurturing my spiritual life. Well, I was not as successful with that as I had hoped. I tried to make it to Meeting once a month, to read the Bible more, and to take time out to spend time reflecting on spiritual matters regularly. I didn’t really succeed on those fronts. But I am finally learning to be still, to stop running from things, to be able to accept things in my life.

I hope to keep working on nurturing my spiritual life. Hopefully, one day I can reach a place where I am open to the movings and leadings of the spirit in my life. And hopefully, through the spirit I can come to a place where I can feel fulfilled and happy with my life. Or perhaps I need to struggle more to learn the lesson I need to learn.


Hystery said...

From the sound of it, I may be in a very similar spiritual place. I was once a very follow your bliss kind of person but as I've aged, I've found that I have a great deal less control over the universe than I thought. Individual good intention and passionate living cannot prevent disease, tragedy, or injustice. Following my bliss with my education and career gave me much joy but didn't prevent enormous debt or change the facts of the economy and the labor situation for people in my field. It didn't prevent depression and it couldn't keep people I love from pain, disease and death. It didn't take away the indignity of trying my best and losing anyway.

So I'm suspicious that living a spirit-driven life actually leads to happiness or if that emotion is even the sign and signal of a faithful response to our calling.

So what is? Darned if I know. I tend to ruminate endlessly about this and analyze it into the ground. When is suffering part and parcel of our journey of growth and when is it just stupid, pointless and boring? When is pain cosmic and unavoidable and when is it self-inflicted? How will I know the difference between a divine nudge toward joy and my own animal impulse away from discomfort?

RichardM said...

I like several of the things that Hystery says about this topic. Let me add my own perspective.

There are times when one gets a pretty clear nudge from the spirit to do something new. When you get such a nudge you CAN ignore it, but you shouldn't. Other times it's less clear that its from God. It may be our own ego talking ("I'm too good for this job.") In such cases it's may not be such a good idea.

But doing what God directs us to do doesn't mean that everything will just be rosy. No, as Hystery says, there will be things like depression, sickness, death, humiliation. Doing as the Father wills can get you crucified. But it is still the right thing to do. It's not like we avoid pain by refusing to do what
God asks of us. There's pain in following our own wills too. But somehow its subtly different. You can feel the difference even though neither way is without pain.

I find that even the most sincere people often get confused about what God's will is for them when it comes to their careers. For some reason that seems to be a particularly difficult issue to discern the difference between ego and God. The best advice about this I can offer is to be attentive to nudges to do little things when these are clear. I call this "microleadings" because they are genuine leadings but not of the "quit that job and devote yourself to combatting global warming" big visionary things that people often take to be leadings. Be attentive to the microleadings and clarity about bigger things gradually follows.

Liz Opp said...

There are two things that rise up for me when reading this post and its related comments.

One is from a session I am practicing for our worship group's upcoming intergenerational First Day School program, which is a lesson from FGC's Faith & Play curriculum. The lesson--more of a story--is called "Listening for God."

There is a refrain, of sorts, woven throughout the story:

"The Spirit helps us to know how to love, what to do, and who to be."

But before we can be "helped," the story tells us, we must take the time to listen, to practice listening, and to listen with our whole selves:

"Unless we stop and listen, we might not notice [that God is closer than breath]."

The other thing that came up for me as I was reading is good ol' Galations 5:22-23, about the fruit of the Spirit.

At times when I have been uncertain if my discontent is a sign of growing into greater self-control or if it is truly a lack of love and peace in my life, I have had intentional conversation with one or two or more Friends to help me discern what is in Gospel Order.

In any event, it sounds as if you are unhappy, and that warrants some exploring and some careful listening...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up