Recently, my work team did an exercise designed to reveal our ‘Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace’. Based on Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages relationship communication tool, this little test helps you and your coworkers develop effective ways to talk to one another.
Side note: Reading Five Love Languages was the primary pre-marital counseling tool Tony and I used, and it remains invaluable information. I highly recommend the book as a tool to make any relationship – but especially a marriage – better.
Anyway, my workplace results were only slightly different than my personal relationship ones. My profile indicated that my primary languages of appreciation are words (no surprise there!) and gifts.
I celebrated my birthday the previous week, and I was not shy about marking the occasion.
It’s my birthday! I proclaimed in the office. I loved it when everybody sang to me. There were a few surprise gifts left sitting on my desk, and they filled my heart with joy.
Another side note: It bothers me a little bit, that I get so excited about unabashedly celebrating me. Somehow, the calendar date gives me permission to unmask my ego and loudly invite applause for my very existence. That seems rather uncouth, as my mother might say. It seems an ugly revelation of the extent of my self-absorption. But, you know what? I’m just going to accept it; because most every other day of the year I’m all up in my head about whether I’m doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons, and if one day a year I can let all of that go and just embrace the fact that I am alive! Yay!, then I’m just going to roll with it…
Back to the story and the languages of appreciation: I do like me some gifts.
Gosh, again – that sounds so egotistical and self-absorbed! But let’s just go with it..
Mostly, I get excited about little things that demonstrate that somebody heard me, and remembered. For our family celebration, one of the kids remembered that I mentioned wanting to draw hummingbirds to the house, so they gave me a bright red feeder and some nectar. Another kid latched on to a story about my college bar band years, when I hauled my Fender Rhodes suitcase piano in my little Subaru hatchback, with an inch to spare on each side. That child drew and watercolored a sketch of said Subaru and said keyboard (seriously? Who does that? My kid!!!!) Another kid sketched the prayer closet in the Richmond Hill garden, with a whole host of words on the back – because they knew how much it mattered to me.
Save the bling and the big, expensive stuff. It’s truly the little things.
(At this point, you’re wondering what this has to do with wisdom, since an exhaustive list of Beth’s Favorite Birthday Gifts is less than thrilling…)
Here’s the point:
On my birthday a few weeks ago, I rose before my husband and left the house before he was coherent. As the day went by, I checked my phone repeatedly for the Happy birthday baby! text. I waited for a phone call.
This, from the guy who calls or texts every single month on our anniversary date to say Happy anniversary, baby….
By the time I got home, I was pouting. He had mentioned, a few days prior, that we’d go out to dinner that night, but my mind was full of negativity and I expected the worse.
I walked through the door – pout and all – and found him fresh out of the shower.
You ready to go celebrate your birthday? He smiled.
I took a minute to indulge the pout, explained that I’d missed hearing from him – for which he apologized – and then got over it.
Let’s go see your first birthday gift he said.
We walked out back to look at the almost-finished raised garden bed – with a beautiful picket fence – that he and David had worked on for the past week. I smiled and rejoiced and thanked him.
Ready for number two? We were still outside; I looked around for a hint and saw nothing but the normal landscape of the back yard. He took my hand and led me towards the woods.
Last year, I remember you saying that you wished you had a path in the back woods behind the house…
I interrupt to tell you that one Saturday evening last fall, I decided to explore the woods behind the house. It’s thick and dense in places, but there are houses and roads in either direction. To make an exciting, dramatic story short: I got turned around and ‘lost’ and panicked. Quite claustrophobic, I couldn’t figure out which direction was home, and I could barely even decipher whether or not I was going in a straight line. Plus, the sun was going down. I got a little scared. Eventually, I got home, of course; it’s not like I was in the wilderness. As I relayed the story to my husband, I said I wish I had a real walking trail back there… That was months ago.
So, anyway, I remember you mentioning that… We walked into the natural clearing behind the fire pit and turned to the right.
….so I made you a path for your prayer walks.
He’d spent the entire day on a borrowed tractor, cutting out a pathway for me to walk and pray.
He’d heard me.
I still don’t have enough words; I still don’t know how to get over what it’s like to be loved like that.
Grace. Only grace.
If the story ended there, with Oh, my husband loves me so much and I’m so happy!!!, it might be enough. But the real punch line is what happened a week later.
Remember the arc of the narrative here? About my desire for wisdom, and the in-your-face encounter with the message from James, and the recollection of the prescriptive to ask for the ancient path and walk in it and the small print statement that I ignored (But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’)?
Still with me?
That Tuesday morning – one week past my birthday – it seemed that an exasperated, yet endlessly patient God was saying, I hear you. I know you want wisdom. Here’s how to get it. And don’t forget that I showed you those ancient paths and the good way. Don’t forget…
And it struck me: My husband, who repeatedly shows me the sort of of unconditional, grace-filled love that I believe represents a glimpse of how the Creator loves the creation; he gave me a gift, something I specifically asked for. He gave me a path.
And I had yet to walk it.
Here’s what I have learned:
God is a good father; the Creator does, indeed, love his creation. As our souls twist and turn and look for a place to stand, as we navigate our changing lives and struggle through our situations, we are seen. We are heard.
When our hearts bend toward real answers to questions of identity and purpose, and when we look inward and upward for revelation, we are seen. We are heard.
The answers are quite often placed right in front of us. We are seen. We are heard.
For people like me, whose lives are caught up in taking care of others, being receptive and responsive to the spiritual and emotional needs of others, scrambling for awareness at all times, lest a ball get dropped and someone gets hurt – it doesn’t take much to push the compass off kilter.
There comes a time when everything you say – the prayers you pray, the counsel you offer, the wisdom you share – needs to boomerang back to bless your own soul. If your position is askew even slightly, the boomerang flies right over your head and into the weeds.
Wisdom, my friends, is not buried in the weeds. It’s right in front of us, in ancient truths written centuries before us, and in the honest love throbbing in the present tense.
It is in the words you claimed years ago, but forgot – or explained away.
It is in the places and people that settle your heart.
It is in the longings of your childhood, the time and place where your soul was free of cynicism and burdened by responsibility; where anything was possible, and God seemed to be all around.
Ask what the good way is. It will be revealed.
Don’t forget to walk in it.
You will find rest for your soul.