In the pages of this article, I have introduced you to my eldest daughter, who came into the world twenty-two years ago. Little-by-little my wife and I collected clues about who this freshly minted tiny human would be. Within a couple of years I came to understand that Annalise shared her mother’s introverted approach to life. She was built to watch and listen. Sometimes a friend or stranger would attempt to begin a game of “Pat a Cake” with her. Rather than responding, her little two-year-old face would regard the well-meaning adult as if he or she were a peculiar scientific experiment unfolding before her dispassionate eyes. The adult would respond to her as if a ball that had been thrown, intended for a game of catch, were allowed to thud to a rolling stop. They would soon roll away to another, more extroverted, responsive child.
As I observed this dynamic over and over again in the ensuing years, I became concerned that my little girl would someday fall through the cracks. I worried that my child’s unique gifts and needs would be overlooked by adults who managed classrooms, projects, teams, and organizations. In response to this concern, whenever a teacher or adult leader would ask me what I wanted for my daughter, my answer was always the same: “I want her to find her voice. I want you to create an environment where she can find her voice.”
This Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 7: 31-37) told the story of a man who had a speech and hearing difficulties. He was brought to Jesus, who took him away from the crowd and helped him find his voice.
Each of us was born into this world with a voice that is as unique as a fingerprint. Like the unique pitch, cadence, and timbre that emanates from our vocal folds, there is a unique inner voice that emanates from our soul. One of the most profound desires knit into each of our beings is the desire to exercise that inner voice. What each of us need, like my daughter, is an environment where we can find that it. We need someone who is willing, like Jesus in today’s scripture, to step away from the crowd and to assist us in finding that voice. Luckily, I found someone willing to do that for me during an important time in my life.
I spent the decade of my twenties sorting out vocational questions. I would frequently look down into my soul and inventory the talents, the heart’s desires, and weaknesses that I discovered there. Some days the hardware contained in my inner warehouse seemed form-fitted for one set of choices. On other days, it seemed that I was built for another thing altogether. I was attempting to find the best way to exercise my voice in this world.
Somewhere in the middle of all of this, I ran into the practice of “spiritual direction .” A spiritual director’s job is to acquaint him or herself with the signs of God’s movements within the human soul. A good spiritual director asks questions and listens deeply. He or she holds onto a person’s narrative with an open-handed loose grip. Often a director’s job is to simply draw attention to previously undetected portions of a person’s story. With a great deal of patience and love, I was able to uncover the unique way to exercise my voice in the world.
As a parent, over the years, I have had to ask for the daily grace to listen, like a spiritual director, with patience and a discerning ear. I have tried to create an environment for my children to find their own unique voices. Part of providing that environment has to do with recognizing my limits, and encouraging them toward formal and informal spiritual mentors.
As a spiritually interested adult, I understand that the job of parenting begins with myself. I am responsible for finding those relationships where I am encouraged to find my truest, and best voice. Whether it is someone with the official title, “Spiritual Director,” a counselor, a spouse, or a friend, I still need people in my life who challenge me with the Lord’s words from this Sunday’s Gospel, “Be Open.”