“In the green of the grass, in the smell of the sea. in the clouds floating by, at the top of a tree. in the sound crickets make at the end of a day. You are loved. You are loved. You are loved, they all say.” – Nancy Tillman, childrens’ book author
I have spent most of my life believing that my behavior made me worthy or un-worthy of love. As an enneagram 3, I learned somewhere early in life, that good behavior equaled success and success equaled love. So I pursued success and avoided failure at all costs. This is how we 3’s exist in the world.
The deterioration of this worldview began when I had my first child 6 years ago. For the first time in my life I was faced with my own failure in a continual head-on collision that wouldn’t stop. Failure was after me and it wouldn’t let me go. And don’t get me wrong, I did everything right. I read all the right books. I went to all the right classes. I talked to all the right people. I even interviewed parents at my church who were really “doing it right” when it came to sleep training and discipline. I studied everything from breast-feeding to home-made baby food and I was poised and ready to succeed as a parent.
My son came out fast. The doctor didn’t have her glove on as he shot into the world, literally kicking and screaming and he didn’t stop for the first weeks of his life. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get him to nurse, to sleep or to stop crying. For me, this was failure to the very highest degree. What mother couldn’t nurse or calm her baby? What mother doesn’t want to bond with her baby? I was depressed. And I knew that I had to find help. I didn’t know it at the time, but I see now that I needed another way of existing in the world. My currency of success went bankrupt. I couldn’t succeed. I couldn’t do this one thing right. It was during this time that I began participating in a spiritual direction group. Think group therapy for ministers. Then I began one on one spiritual direction. Think actual therapy for your spiritual life. The practice that my spiritual director gave me was silence. I was instructed to practice silence. Every day. I was confused but I listened very intently to her explain the practice to me. I had to do it right, of course. Our conversation went something like this.
Me (eagerly)-“Ok. What do I do?”
Director-“You sit in silence. Every day.”
Me-“Ok. And do what?”-
Director-“You sit there. In silence. With God.”
Me (confused)-“I just sit there?”-
Director-“Yes. And let God love you. You don’t do anything. You be.”
Me-“Hmmm….Ok. I can do that.”
Director-“You don’t do, Kelly. You be. Be. Loved. By God. Every day. In silence.”
It sounded dreadful but I gave it a try. She said that I should be prepared to feel frustrated or feel like I was wasting my time or feel as though nothing was “happening.” She was right. I felt this way many times. But I stayed with it. Mostly because I knew she was going to ask me about it the following month.
I have practiced daily silence for years now. And it has changed my life. Let me be clear, my circumstances haven’t changed. Today my son who came out kicking and screaming is still inviting me to face my own failure every single day. I find that I don’t know how to parent him. I don’t know how to love him best at times. I am impulsive when I should be calm. I talk too much when I should listen. I do it wrong. All the time. But practicing silence has taught me that I am loved. I am not loved for anything that I do or anything that I don’t do. I am loved because of who I am. I am loved by God in my inner being, deep down in my guts, in my essence, in the core of who I am, I am seen and loved by God. And every day, when I set my stopwatch for silence I am reminded of this. As I am still, as I let my lungs slowly fill up with air, I begin to believe that I am loved for my being and not my doing. I begin to believe that I am loved for who I am and not what I do. And this has changed everything for me.