In January, our family visited the Blue Ridge Tunnel in Nelson County, Virginia. The old railroad tunnel, built by Irish immigrants and enslaved Americans, became operational in 1858. The tunnel cuts into greenstone, a metamorphic rock, and is a mile long hike from one end to the other with no light except a very dim outline of the exit on the other side.
About a half mile into our hike, with headlamps and flashlights used as guides, the periphery faded away into darkness and my vision trained on that exit. It was disorienting. I’d walk one tenth of a mile, then another, yet the daylight never seemed any closer; just that same elusive opening to the outside world.
This year, this very long, hard year has felt like the Blue Ridge Tunnel. The darkness. The disorientation. And finally we are seeing the way out shape and form and become more attainable.
Slowly, slowly, slowly normalcy is returning.
Today I got a call from our elementary school. Harper’s registration is approved and she will return to in-person classes next week. I’ve been homeschooling this year so Harper’s inaugural day of 4th grade will coincide with meeting her teacher and classmates for the first time.
For a year, we parents—mostly mothers—have put our heads down, sacrificing our careers and dreams in the name of being “essential” to our families. After all, we are the ones who make sure our toddlers have the extra mask in the daycare bag, and we are the ones who store all the links and passwords for virtual school, and we are the ones who stay up late to learn the math concepts in order to teach them to our children.
So now, as the heavy darkness begins to lift, as the schools are opening and vaccines are coming and playgrounds are becoming playgrounds again, I ask you, what is it that you want to do?
I’ve been thinking of that question these last few weeks as I notice more space in my day, freeing up time I don’t have to devote to the must-do’s. Recently, a few opportunities have presented themselves—ways to turn my natural giftings into something I can use in tangible ways that look more like creativity than work. I have the room for it, and now echoes the question:
What do I want to do?
In the book Let Your Life Speak, Parker J Palmer writes, “Is this life you’re living the same life that wants to live in you? Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”
If you, like me, are standing on the threshold of a thing, be it time freedom, a job opportunity, or a creative venture, the next right thing we can do is to listen. Before we throw it all up on the wall to see what sticks. Before we ask our family, friends, acquaintances and strangers what they would do. Before we say yes because yes is our default, or no because no means we can put the decision off another day/month/year.
What is it that is in you to do?
In my own real-time listening tour, I’m doing a few things NOW before deciding what’s next:
I’m telling close friends that I’m in a period of discernment and asking for prayer but not counsel. (I love that Isaiah 47:13 says: You are wearied by the multitude of your counselors. No kidding).
I’m doing some creative projects at no cost to gain insight on the scope of the work that interests me.
I’m making a list of the things that are life giving and life draining in my current roles.
I’m removing the background noise in my life. For example, today I let my Facebook friends know that I’ll be deactivating my account by week’s end. To be honest, Facebook is a life drain for me, and there are far too many rabbit holes I’ve scampered down this year on that platform.
I’m taking myself away this weekend to listen and pray about what I want to do next—like actually checking myself into a hotel and spending the night, y’all.
In his book Essentialism, Greg McKeown writes, “The faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.”
Before you shift back into normalcy this year, or make that change in your career, or do that thing you believe you’re absolutely wired for, I invite you to listen. Be still. Ask. Eavesdrop on your own life. And then listen again to what it is telling you.