She asked the question—a perceptive and probing question—in the middle of a four-hour dinner. Which, in my opinion, is THE best kind of dinner. And question.

After a speaking event, we’d carved out an evening to catch up. The past several months haven’t afforded that kind of long, slow conversation. We were overdue. So, in between bites of the-most-amazing-spinach-blueberry-goat-cheese-salad, we talked about work. Family. Books. And art and poetry and music.

Then, a thoughtful pause. A brief intake of breath. And a beautiful, complicated, life-giving question:

What’s the hardest thing for you right now? 

With those eight words, she opened a window and let a fresh breeze blow in. Weeks of pent-up tension escaped like an exhale from my soul. Even better, behind her question sat a truth I could see as clear as her blue eyes: She knew me, saw me. And she wasn’t afraid of what was there. 

In spite of my own pause, my reply was entirely too long, too intense, too random. Lately my thoughts swirl like uprooted trees in a raging tornado, jagged and out of place. That means I’m confident whatever I said came out a vomitous mess. Yay for her.

Still, she leaned in, nodded, listened.

In the days since that glorious dinner (did I mention the salad?), I’ve thought long and hard about that conversation, but especially my friend’s question. Why did it have such an impact on me? Why did it lift such a weight? And why, when I drove home four hours later, did I feel more light and joy and peace than I have in weeks?

The incredible thing: I believe she felt the same.

Something happens when we choose to hover in sacred space for longer than a fleeting moment. When we decide to forego the constant hustle and instead lean in, ask the hard questions, and listen. There was a time I would’ve considered a four-hour dinner a colossal waste of time. I have a husband, family, responsbilities to attend to and work to complete. I don’t have time to linger over mixed greens and endless conversation.

Now I wonder if I have time not to.

Imagine an ordinary four-drawer metal file cabinet. Over the past eight months, the file cabinet of my life has filled with documents and receipts and papers and projects. In the past year, through minutes and days of unimmanageable circumstances, I’ve filled my file cabinet with quite a collection. Unable to process and organize, I’ve stuffed folders and papers into drawers that can no longer be closed. The result is an accumulated mess.

With her one question, however, my friend invited me to pull out a file or two and talk through each one. She allowed me to ramble and process, to sort and organize. By the end of our conversation, my file cabinet felt a little less impossible, a little more manageable. And I think she felt the same.

This is what happens when we choose to abandon the daily grind for holy time. When we fight against a current that pushes us to do more, we can actually be more. In the process, as we learn to create and share those sacred spaces, we begin to acknowledge and unravel the untouched and overwhelmed corners of our lives, giving worthy attention to them in the safety of relationship. Sure, we could hire a counselor to do this. Or set up an appointment with a pastor. Both are valuable and have their place.

But nothing can replace the extraordinary beauty of good old fashioned friendship. That sweetness of sharing our in-progress, undone stories with another honest soul wrestling through her own.

To my good friend who gave a patient ear to this uprooted woman still waiting for the tornado to calm, thank you. You leaned in. As a result, you lifted my soul.

And to you and I, those of us with great intentions who sometimes allow our hustle to ecclipse our hovering, let’s slow down just a bit this week, yes?

Let’s remember that sometimes, sometimes, four-hour dinners are far more productive than eight-hour days.

When’s the last time you shared honest and unhurried time with a friend? 

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