Earlier this summer, I was privileged to attend the Global Leadership Summit. If you aren’t familiar, don’t sweat it. This was my first time getting to go, so I was in the dark, too. It’s a two-day conference filled with faithful and practical tips for becoming a better leader, live-streamed to more than 40,000 people and featuring some of the world’s most influential leaders. Color me humbled to be a viewer at our Cape Girardeau satellite location!
Since that conference, I’ve been trying like heck to implement everything I learned. That’s that most difficult part of a seminar, class, or experience like this one, right? Hearing it is easy. Pinpointing exactly where these lessons apply to your own life is easy. But leaving the conference and plugging in these new methods of work and life into your rhythm? Uh, we’re creatures of habit for a reason.
Habit aside, I have been bound and determined to change my life and my leadership abilities based on what I learned. The lesson that comes up more often than any other is that of Whitespace. (Quick aside, Whitespace at Work is a movement created by Juliet Funt–you can (and should) learn all about it here.)
To paraphrase, whitespace is the idea of taking regular, purposeful moments of intentional silence. Get that? Both the time and the quiet are intentional! It’s not just using any quiet moment (like filling up your gas tank) to try and meditate on your life; and it’s not just scheduling five minutes a day to “not work.”
The purposeful pause serves to open your mind up to ideas and innovations that would otherwise go unheard amidst the nonstop clamoring of our daily lives.
The reason smart phones and tablets are so detrimental to our society isn’t because they ruin social moments, but because they ruin solitary ones. We have forgotten how to be alone, and how to foster that alone time into something wonderful. I read once that it is in these moments of quiet observation that we recognize the great potential around us–answers to questions that haven’t even been asked yet; ideas that are barely begun; solutions to problems we didn’t realize we had.
Of all the changes I have attempted in my adult life so far (eating healthy!, exercising more!, taking classes!, learning to drive stick shift!, reading a book a week!, etc, etc, etc) daily whitespace has been the most powerful, life-altering habit of them all. And I’ll illustrate why in a very, very basic story.
Last week, my friend had her first baby. A beautiful little girl. Some unforeseen complications have kept the baby in the NICU for the last few days, and for the next few at least. She’s doing well–stronger each day–but as my many mom-friends can attest, there’s a lot of stress and worry that accompany a newborn, especially when you’re spending every moment in the hospital with her. So our gaggle of galpals decided to wrangle up some food–frozen meals, snacks, giftcards, and casseroles–and stock their kitchen so that upon their arrival home, they’ll have one less task on their to-do list.
This evening, my close friend Alex and I went over to their home to drop off the food. Alex is staying with her own daughter at her parents’ house while her husband is out of town. I picked her up, we drove the food over, and I drove her back home. I went home, promptly ditched my work clothes for some pajamas and set about making my dinner-for-one specialty: spaghetti. I got a text from my friend while I cooked and saw it was a picture. Thinking it would be an adorable baby picture, I opened it while I was busy multi-tasking. It wasn’t, so I tossed the phone aside and forgot about it.
Hours went by, and I laid about like a lump on the couch binging The Office on Netflix as I do every autumn. I idly scrolled through instagram and saw a message from my mom about the power of being quiet in prayer. Spending time to listen to the Lord and cultivate a relationship. Whitespace. Moved by this, I turned the TV off and laid down with my eyes closed. Think the unthunk thought, Funt would say.
My brain went to all the usual places it does when you try to quiet your brain: you should put that laundry away; do your dinner dishes, slob; what are your top priorities for tomorrow’s workday; whose birthday is closest and have you gotten them a gift yet–and then: wait, if that wasn’t a baby picture, what did she send you a picture of?
I scrambled for my phone and re-opened the text. It was a picture of Alex’s car keys. On our friend’s counter. Alex’s husband out of town, her baby’s carseat in that car, her job as a teacher demanding early hours–all the perfect storm for losing her keys. I texted back frantically, “Yes, I know those keys! I’ll be right over to get them!” Twenty minutes all said and done, I retrieved the keys and took them to Alex, who will be much happier when she sets out to leave at 6:00 tomorrow morning for work.
I don’t share this story to brag about my victory in friendship; it’s just good sense that if your friend lost her car keys, there’s no way she’s going to be able to pick them up! But because the moment was so much more profound to me.
In 30 seconds of being quiet, I was able to recall something that, for Alex, was of vital importance. Her daughter, her coworkers, and all of her students count on her every day to be in a certain place at a certain time.
And God would do so much more for so much less if we would just stop and listen with more intention.
I truly do not think that God talks to us less than He did to the people in Biblical times. I think they were just better listeners. We’re surrounded by noise all of the time. But imagine the profound and life-changing affect that fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet time could do for you. Would you understand His call better? Would you hear an answer your heart has been aching for? Would you find the peace you’ve been waiting for? What will God do if you give him just 15 minutes? I promise, if you give the Lord, who loves you and created you, your heart for a few moments of quiet and prayerful, intentional listening every day, what God will give you in return is everything.