When I was young, my best friend once told me she wished I'd have more words for her. She wanted a verbal response when she shared things with me to demonstrate that I was really listening. We'd been friends more than ten years at the point, since we were five. I tried to explain to her that I did hear her, but just didn't have anything to say in response. What I didn't know how to communicate is that I was learning to hold what she shared -- whether it was the new alternative rock song she played for me on her tape player, the recent conversation with her crush that she analyzed, her dreams for the future. I heard it all. I just didn't have words, not yet anyway.
I've been thinking about this exchange a lot lately. It was a passing interaction, a conversation I remember having only once, and yet it marked our friendship because of what we were expressing to each other: the desire to be heard, loved, understood and supported. I've been thinking about it because of how I'm feeling about the world right now and what the events of each new day demand of me. People want words. Many others have words, or feel the need to have them, and share them on social media or in seemingly never-ending conversations at coffee shops and over text messages. Just today, my sister and I went to a coffee shop where we shared a table with two other women. As they scooched their things to offer space for us, they warned us that we'd be subjected to their political conversation. We laughed but also knew they were very earnest, because how can we not talk about what's going on?
I had the same feeling over the summer. It was the weekend after a few more black people were killed at the hands of white police officers, and just before I was to leave for two weeks in Kenya. I didn't know how to respond in my own heart, let alone on social media, where likes and comments might judge how well I was doing at this whole responding thing. As I scrolled through Facebook, feeling my lack of words, one friend shared a response from one of his friends, introducing it as "the perfect response" to what was happening. And that's when I began to wonder, are all these responses coming from our hearts, or are we putting on a show, all trying to have what someone else will call "the prefect response"?
Prayer yesterday morning led me to Isaiah 30, where a disobedient people are told that strength will come in their learning to be quiet. And again, in Psalm 46, where I have been stationing myself with hope and prayer, we are told to be still. Pay attention is what it says in another version of that psalm, know that God is God. And now I can't get away from wondering if the first response isn't a reactionary declaration or a search for who we can align ourselves with on social media, but is rather stillness. Quietness. Holding the pain, listening to our friends, and searching our hearts for what we are called to do or say.
Henri Nouwen says it this way:
It is not so difficult to see how "reactionary" we tend to be: that is, how often our lives become a series of nervous and often anxious reactions to the stimuli of our surroundings... we should ask ourselves how much of our reading and talking, visiting and lobbying, lecturing and writing, is more part of an impulsive reaction to the changing demands of our surroundings than an action that was born out of our own center. ... It seems of great importance to know with an experiential knowledge the difference between an action that is triggered by a change in the surrounding scene and an action that has ripened in our hearts through careful listening to the world in which we live.
And so I am content to pray and trust that meaningful sentiments, compassionate actions and deepened relationships will be nurtured in my heart through knowing that God is still God.