The structure part of the retreat finishes and we all prepare for bed. Kendra, my co-leader, plants herself on one side of the room, I on the other. We want to be available to any students who may want to talk more privately about the things we discussed during the weekend – things of faith, hope, fear, and freedom.
I watch Kendra from where I sit. She is in deep conversation with a student and I desperately want to join them, want to hear the things that bring this girl to such a broken place and hopefully, to healing.
Instead, I sit on my side of the room and am quickly surrounded by a group of about four girls. The conversation drifts from cats to allergies to dogs. Then back to cats.
Internally, I am exploding from boredom. Externally, I am listening, laughing, engaged.
This talk is not interesting. But these girls are sixteen. And in order to reach their hearts, sometimes we have to smile through the small talk, connect on insignificant issues, feel our way through the pleasantries.
I am emotionally allergic to small talk. Give me a girl who wants to talk the deep and I’ll stay up all night. Put me at dinner with a group of chit-chatters, and I’ll take my food to go, thank you.
But I don’t take my food to go because I like people. Also, I’m pretty good at the small talk. People have actually told me this. I roll my eyes at myself sometimes when I notice ways my outer life isn’t consistent with my inner life.
The Man and I read a book together this past winter – Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton – and while I read about her own career in speaking and writing as well as the exhaustion her soul felt in the midst, it resonated so deeply I had to put the book down and sob.
“Exhaustion sets in when we are too accessible too much of the time. A soul-numbing sadness comes when we realize that a certain quality of life and quality of presence is slipping away as a result of too much ‘convenience.’… I am noticing that the more I fill my life with the convenience of technology, the emptier I become in the places of my deepest longing.”
Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms
Sometimes the internet feels like one long session of small talk. It drains the ever-lovin life out of me.
Small talk isn’t necessarily wrong or bad, it just isn’t my favorite. And the feeling I get when the small talk outweighs the real talk is similar to the feeling I get when I haven’t had time to consider my intentions, my longings, and my desire.
Jesus consistently asked people in the Bible the same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It wasn’t a trick question and it cut right through the small talk. He looked straight into their eyes and asked them clearly, what is your desire?
It is impossible to answer questions about desire when our souls shake at the edges from too much activity.
We must quiet the critical voice, search out the secret place, listen for the deep, mysterious longing.
Don’t be afraid of the answers. What God has placed within you, he wants to bring out of you. Not just for you, but for us, too.
Barton goes on to say: “I long for the beauty and substance of being in the presence of those I love, even though it is less convenient. I long for spacious, thoughtful conversation even though it is less efficient. I long to be connected with my authentic self, even though it means being inaccessible to others at times.”
And so I consider what it is I long for.
I have a deep desire to listen and understand what goes on behind the masks people put up. Even though I wrote a whole book about it, sometimes I’m still terrified to have people see what goes on behind mine. I long to embrace my own smallness, to quiet the competing voices in my head, and to enter into listening conversations with my husband, teenagers, my children, my Father.
We were made in the secret place and to the secret place we must return. To receive. To remember. To listen.
What are you longing for?
typed out in the quiet by Emily Freeman