Learning to Listen | Reflections by Horizons Fellow Celeste Meadows '19

There’s a reason I’m not a liberal arts major--I’ve never been a confident speaker in discussions or seminars, especially when my grade is on the line. While many factors influenced my decision to study Nursing rather than English or Philosophy, I’m grateful to have clinical rotations at the hospital rather than discussion sections. 

As a Horizons fellow, I have the privilege of meeting once a month with the 11 other fellows to discuss passages about life, vocation, vulnerability and faith. At the most recent discussion, I found myself overwhelmed by the depth and meaning of the passages from David Foster Wallace and Parker Palmer. I sat and listened as the other fellows shared insights on how to live in the present moment and how to cast light into the shadows of our broken world. Meanwhile, an internal battle raged. 

“Celeste, you need to say something.” …

“No, you shouldn’t just say something, you have to have something good to 

say.” …

“Your thoughts probably won’t make sense anyway.” 

And I even prayed,

“God, give me words to say that will sound deep, that will make it sound like I know what I'm talking about.”

That night I felt both awe at the thoughts my peers have and the way they think deeply about the world, and frustration with myself for not sharing. As the discussion continued, I was aware of who had and had not spoken, and as each new person spoke I worried that it would eventually become obvious that I wasn’t saying anything. I know that Horizon’s gatherings are not a graded class and that I don’t have to make the groundbreaking comment that shapes how my friends view the Lord or vocation. However, we are encouraged to share, as each of us has unique gifts and God-given interests. We all interact with literature and theology in different ways. The words coursing through my mind that I paid attention to, kept me from being present in the conversation, from listening and responding. 

It’s ironic because the topic of conversation for this particular evening was “Calling and Listening.” One of the questions was “What do I pay attention and listen to each day?” 

And there I was—listening to the voices in my head telling me my reflections and thoughts aren’t worthy to be shared!

 Since that night, I’ve had the chance to think about how I listen, if I listen and what I am hearing. Am I paying attention to what my peers are revealing about themselves and the way the Lord is working in their lives? Am I listening to a script in my head that tells me my insights and I are not valuable? As I consider these thoughts, I’m wondering that if in simply listening and paying attention, not only do I give a gift to my friends and others, I also attend less to the swirling voices in my mind that prevent me from seeing my God-given worth. 

I notice I tend to be on autopilot, giving in to the busyness of being a student and not stopping to reflect. I’m learning that listening requires attention and patience. Staying in the present moment requires me to be critical of my thoughts and brain. I’m inspired to be present in any hurt my housemates might be experiencing, to take pleasure in reading just for fun, and to have discipline with myself in being open to the voice of the Lord. I miss these things when I pay attention only to the internal scripts in my mind.