The Lost Art of Leaning In

Aug 12, 2015

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? 


  1. Kathleen

    My friend Diane calls this Kingdom Time. It is a holy time and a sacred space.

  2. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    “When we fight against a current that pushes us to do more, we can actually be more.” Wow. That one sentence practically undid me! It’s what I’ve been doing for over a decade. Trying to “be” more. Trying to make up for my past. Trying to apologize to God through works. Ugh. It’s funny how illness shifts your priorities in about a nano-second. You begin to slow down long enough to be changed…things begin to happen that are eternal and suddenly, this world fades away and the one we will live in forever becomes more clear. I’m so glad your friend was sensitive to the Holy Spirit in that moment across a shared meal.

  3. Bruce Crosd

    I can’t remember but this post serves as a GREAT invitation to have those meaningful conversations as well as to be available to others.

  4. Leah

    Thank you for sharing! So powerful– I’ve been struggling with some friendships lately and this also reminded me of the great value in them.

  5. Tracy Line

    Love this. Why do we always fight slowing down? What exactly are we so busily trying to accomplish anyway?! Surely most of it is not God’s work. 🙂 Thanks for this great reminder of what’s important (and what’s not) Michele!

  6. Jerolyn

    Thank you Michele! Despite all the technical social advances, nothing beats face to face.

  7. Frank Eriksen

    Great post Michele. As time never stands still it never seems to be in adequate supply for me. There’s either too little, or too much. Both are stressful. So how do we find the sweet spot in the space/time continuum? I think that’s where God steps in (if we invite Him to.) and shows us the way. The how. The work around. All we have to do is ask. This doesn’t mean our time won’t be stressful. It just means, in God, we now have the ultimate safety net. It’s so comforting to know that the hands that built the universe, are waiting to catch you and me and everyone, when we fall.

  8. Kay Kurth

    Michele, Thank you. I feel the longer we are on this journey the more time as our ‘ love language’ The important ‘to do’s’ on our agenda become the not-so important. It’s all in the relationships built and the legacy we leave. Love ya girl!

  9. Jessica Fall

    There is so much beauty in the freedom to share our un-processed emotions and in-process lives with a trusted friend. Thank you for the reminder to press in when the world calls us to just press on.

  10. Victoria

    In the eighteen months since my teenage daughter Leah died, the four hour lunches that I’ve shared with friends, have been some of the most helpful and encouraging times on this journey – food for the body and food for the soul.

  11. Chery Gegelman

    Michele – Thank you for the lovely post!

    The salad does sound amazing!

    And the lingering one-on-one conversation that gives time for both people to share their hearts – even if it as random as popping popcorn kernels. Is so special and so needed.

    I am currently an expat on the other side of the world. During the summer most of my neighbors leave for extended holidays in their home countries, so after a short vacation of our own I returned to find a handful of neighbors here and have savored those lengthy one-on-one conversations as well. (The only thing that would have made them better is your spinach salad!)

  12. Kia Stephens

    Michelle, well said once again. “This is what happens when we choose to abandon the daily grind for holy time. ” I’m in my busy season and this is so tough for me to do. In the midst of everything that must be don – Argh! – I know you are right. I am going to do my best to find creative intentional times to connect with friends. Grateful for your words and be blessed! – Kia


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