The Silent Year
For the last six years of my life, I have written a lot publicly. While my writing has been a small stone in a small pool making minor ripples, it has meant a lot to me personally. Writing is how I process life and connect with others.
However, in the midst of a year of major change for our family, I find myself without words. Demands on my time provide enough challenge, but when I do sit down before a white screen, my mind is blank. I can think of lesson plans, dinner menus, memos, and household chores, but I cannot think of a thing to write. I have reached a silent year.
When we go through a major life transitions like changing jobs, having a baby, losing a loved one, marital strife, financial changes, etc., our mind and psyche is completely consumed with coping. In these times, we have little left to give to others, and our usual outlets of giving may be temporarily stunted. If Jesus gives us the water of life, as His Word says, we are absorbing more than usual and therefore, our overflow is less. We’re taking in and keeping everything we need.
Writing is an act of the heart, and a very, very vulnerable one. Writing is a way I send out a tiny little voice into the big world to see if anyone out there is listening. But it requires me to have something personal to bring to the table. I must be strong enough to be vulnerable when I write.
Teaching, especially at the high school level, also requires enormous vulnerability. You must stand before the toughest of critics (teenagers) and put a piece of yourself out before people who are quick to judge, slow to understand, and (often, but not always) quick to become angry. You can teach without being vulnerable, but I believe the best teaching involves some level of vulnerability. So after all this vulnerability, at the end of the day, I am speechless. I’ve turned myself inside out, wrung out the last drops, and my creative well is dry.
To keep my year from being completely silent, I offer these three reflections.
1. Getting thicker skin is excruciating. Callouses form from continual friction, and aspiring guitarists know that you have to bleed your way to mastering the fret board. Opening yourself up to people day after day and daring to care opens up your heart to a thousand little rough edges. The process of learning how to care without giving up, becoming cold, or closing down is painful. It happens daily and with purposeful practice.
Transitioning from being home with my babies to being in a classroom with teenagers is a tough change, but it’s also good for me to get a thicker skin. While I hope I never lose a tender heart or compassion for others, I can use some toughening up.
2. Fight or Flight. This morning as I was driving the kids, a medium-sized spider crawled out of the seam where the windshield meets the roof of the car, approximately six inches from my face. The last time this occurred, I swerved over and struck the guardrail. Knowing I wasn’t going to repeat that mistake, I suppressed my instinct to flee, pulled down my sweatshirt sleeve over my hand, and smashed the spider. Every one of us has a fight or flight instinct in times of stress. I have always been prone to flight. Spiders, confrontation, arguments, conflict, and challenges tend to provoke me to run away, avoid, hide, or flee. Only when there is no other option will I choose to fight. But God has put me in some corners where there is no choice but to smash the spider. In the Bible, God tells the Israelites that they only need to stand firm; He will fight for them. I’m learning, slowly, to stand up for myself, stand my ground, and to find strength I didn’t know I possessed.
3. Switching hats. Friday night, I peeled off my school t-shirt and with it, I shed my work week and my teacher role. I took a bath, put on makeup and dressed up for a date with my husband. When I’m at work, it’s hard to close up shop and go home because there is always one more thing to do. When I’m at home, it’s so hard to leave behind my family and go to work; I miss them terribly. When I’m texting with friends, I know how important those relationships are to me, yet it’s hard to find time to get away and spend time together without feeling guilty for not being at home. The guilt I feel in each turn is false guilt, and I have to choose to name it that way and disregard it. Each role I’ve been given is a gift, so it’s important to switch hats and be fully present in all aspects of life God has given. I can never be everywhere at once, and God doesn’t intend for me to be. I honor Him when I am fully present in the present moments of grace.
No matter how silent my year seems, I have a feeling this will be a year of many lessons, even more blessings, and more grace than I can imagine.