I am a planner, a control-freak, an Enneagram Type 1. I like to plan a route and know where I’m going. I get carsick when I am not the one behind the wheel on a windy road. Swings and slides make me dizzy – give me a trail to run on that’s firm beneath my feet.
At the end of December, I joined a twelve-day online retreat. Each day it offered a different way of listening for a word to focus on for the new year. We drew; we wrote; we talked with friends; we listened to our dreams. I had pretty well settled on a word by December 31st, but on the morning of January 1st a word from a meditation I was reading leapt off the page: consent.
I balked. That could not be my word. I like words of empowerment, words that inspire, encourage, or motivate, and consent? It sounded more like a good word for a doormat. It sounded weak and submissive.
But the word persisted. It lingered in my mind for days, and finally I consented to ponder it for the year. What would it mean, I wondered, to consent to the people and circumstances that come my way? I was wary.
I googled the word to learn its etymology. It stems from the words for together and feel. To feel together. That, I thought, I could do: I can feel together with the people who come my way and with the Spirit of this God I am stumbling toward. It would, as my friend Stephanie pointed out, require a lot of listening.
Then 2015 happened. I know we are only a few months in, but I cannot believe the number of challenging circumstances that have already come our way. There were weeks of sickness, including many days when I couldn’t get out of bed and had to rely on the help of Dave and our new friends here in the East Bay to care for Everett. There have been a couple of major transitions announced at Open Door that will affect our whole Open Door family, and Dave’s job, significantly; these are good, exciting changes, but carry us into the unknown. And then my grandmother had a massive stroke and passed away ten days later. There have been other things, too, big and small – things that keep rocking my foundation, making it hard to catch my breath.
What does all this have to do with consent? Again and again, I am called in the midst of this chaos to suspend my frustration or anxiety and to listen. As I was sick, I thought often of my two new friends who have battled very serious sickness, sickness that took hold of them for years, and yet they are here and strong and more loving than ever because of it. My weeks of sickness were a small, unasked-for opportunity to feel with them what they have felt, a tiny window into their experiences.
The transitions at Open Door offer me an opportunity, as our friends here like to say, to listen longer than is comfortable. As we step into some unknowns as a community in this year, we will listen together with wonderful leaders whom I trust for the right way forward.
I bought two last-minute tickets to St. Louis earlier this month. The first allowed me to sit at the bedside of my dear grandmother in some of her last days. The second gave me the chance to gather with family and celebrate her life of service, love, and hospitality. We listened together to stories of her life and felt together the hope that God offers for the end of our days as we know them.
Again and again we are asked to consent. Not to give up, but to say yes to the circumstances we find ourselves in and to enter into them with our whole selves. To consent is to be present, to be awake, with eyes and ears and hearts open.
This year is not what I expected. I haven’t even written the goals I thought I’d be intentionally working toward by now. I am behind where I thought I would be on my book project, delayed again and again by life.
I choose to consent each day to the life I’ve been given.
of all I carry, tossed willy-
nilly into the wind;
save me, Jesus, from my own
nestle me under your wing, and
teach me to listen.