I am a good at listening, a skill I mastered by the time I was an adolescent. During my wonder years, my father would often admonish me for not listening, and punishment would come shortly thereafter. I tried my hardest, but it was so difficult to pay attention when I was always daydreaming. Daydreaming about swimming, cupcakes, and of course boys.
Most of my days were spent painting elaborate stories, adventures, and experiences in my head. Creating landscapes and lyrical escapades in my mind became a favorite way to pass the time. At bedtime, I was never redirected or interrupted, so staying up late became the norm. I struggled to wake up in the morning, often arrived at school after the bell had rung, and carried home notes from my teacher.
As the youngest child, I struggled to keep up with my siblings. My beautiful sister and athletic brothers always seemed to easily engage with one another. My attention was drawn inward, which became my largest struggle. Chores could not wait for the end of a daydream. Homework did not pause for my mind’s eye. Dinner did not get eaten while staring off into space. My parents wanted me to be present, and I did too…just not as bad.
By the time adolescence arrived, I had mastered the art of paying attention. Academic and family constructs had made it my priority. I willed my mind to see the things around me. I widened my eyes and strained to hear every word spoken in conversation. Sunsets captured my eyes, music seized my ears, and relationships apprehended my heart. Paying attention to more things on the exterior and fewer on the interior became my new norm. Homework was easier, friendships lasted longer, and accolades from my parents overflowed. It felt good to get things done and meet everyone else’s standards in the process.
It wasn’t until I became very ill during high school that I was forced to slow everything down. I couldn’t go to school, entertain visitors, or even get out of bed. I spent endless hours at a time alone. Television became boring, reading mundane, and video games irritating. Spending almost an entire month at home being nursed by my family turned out to be my greatest education. I had nothing else to do with the silence but return to my old pastime. And I am glad I did.
During that season, I discovered that my inner voice was my own best asset. My health was not improving, but my awareness was. In my mind’s eye, I could see myself getting better. Visions of skating, laughing, and dating filled my head. I was healthy and whole. The images projected in my dreams became a motivator and the positive self-statements that followed a catalyst. My voice was the strongest when I was alone, my dreams much more powerful. By learning to tune out all of life’s distractions, I learned to listen to me, deeply.
Listening has now become an integral part of my life. Daily, I listen to the struggles of others, but each moment I try hardest to hear my own voice. The voice that wells up from the truest part of me, undiluted. I now recognize my voice more clearly and hold my dreams near. The visions within me create a space of possibility and on days when I am the quietest, I sense something else welling inside—the gift of the Holy Spirit that is meant to lead and guide me. And in a society that is filled with so much noise, I am often reminded, that the still, small voice inside of me, is the truly most important thing I need to hear.