Transcript: Episode 13
Finding Silence (or not...) A conversation with Hannah Lamberth
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Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
So in this episode I am really delighted to be joined by Hannah Lamberth. Hi Hannah, thank you ever so much.
C: We met at a retreat, so a few months ago now, and got on really well. One of the things that we did as part of that retreat was sharing reflections, and you had a habit of bringing some really profound, really interesting, really well-written stuff. Do you wanna introduce yourself a little bit?
H: I’m Hannah, I am almost 40 and I have plans for quite an extravagant celebration, so I’m planning to embrace my 40s rather than fear them. It handily falls on the Sunday of a bank holiday.
C: Oh brilliant!
H: Which is marvello– which, that is excellent planning from my parents that many years ago.
C: Well done your parents
H: Yeah, well done Mum, I think.
C: So the most important thing about you is what you do for your 40th, so what are you going to do for your 40th?
H: Oh, big party! I love people, I love music, I love laughter, I actually quite like a gin and tonic, or lots of wine, or, y’know, half a bottle of vinegar. *laughs* So lots of food, fun, laughter, people, and I think post-covid, it’s made people really think about what they love and what they want to spend their money and their time on, and it turns out I’m a massive socialite and I just want to be with people eating all of the time. So I drag along into that world my long-suffering husband, Dave, and our 2 children, who are 12 and 8, 2 girls. Life is full, we live all together with my father-in-law as well. When people say “I’m a people person”, and you think “that’s a vague, non-thing”, but I am more embracing my people-person-ness the older I get, and I really, really love being with people, socialising, hearing stories, having a coffee or lunch with people, it’s just my favourite thing in the world to do. So I am a people-person and proud of it.
C: Fantastic, fantastic. Talking of people, I have asked my son upstairs to keep the noise down, but there’s no guarantees that he will, so we might just have to pause for a moment and re-do something if there is noise, or we might just leave the naturalness.
H: Yeah, and the reflection I’m sharing today actually fits in extraordinarily well with –
C: – the possibility of interruption.
H: Well I say the guarantee of interruption.
C: I think life has a guarantee of interruption, doesn’t it?
C: So having shared about the fact that you’re a massive people person, I notice that the title of your reflection is ‘Finding Silence’. So here is
Finding Silence, by Hannah Lamberth
I walk in search of silence,
60 minutes with one instruction:
No washing machine shouting at me
to tell me it’s done;
No Amazon deliveries.
No phone call from school,
Desperately hoping it’s
“nothing to worry about!”
“Your child’s finger is pointing the wrong way
and you need to take them to A&E.”
No email notifications,
with another task to add to my to-do list.
No shouting from downstairs
as my deaf father-in-law
over the phone
of how to do online banking
to his even deaf-er sister.
Just 60 minutes.
With one instruction:
Except it seems
that the memo wasn’t
Not to the cars in the distance,
nor to the planes in the sky,
nor to the workman fixing the lawnmower
with his drill
or the team who’ve chosen this moment
to chainsaw a fallen tree.
The memo wasn’t delivered
to the birds in the trees,
who are mid-choir practice
for tomorrow’s dawn chorus.
Or the sheep
who have evidently started a debate club
and have reached
the passionate conclusion of their arguments.
The memo wasn’t delivered
to the farmer with his plough,
nor the whistling of the passer-by.
And so my walk
in search of silence
So. much. noise.
None of it louder
than the noise in my mind.
Of my to-do list,
the choices I need to make.
my question of
“Who am I?”
Did I mention my to-do list?
How do I escape the noise?
How do I stop and sit
and block. out. the noise?
C: Hmm, thank you. So you wrote that whilst we were on retreat?
C: In the context of the fact that we were all invited to go and spend “just 60 minutes” in the morning, in quiet.
H: Yeah. And when we were invited on this retreat, there was mention of spending some time in silence, and we had a WhatsApp group of people going on the retreat, and there was a lot of responses, you’ll remember, Catherine –
H: – of people freaking out at the thought of having to be quiet and having to be silent. “Oh my goodness, I can’t!” It quickly transpired it wasn’t a ‘silent retreat’ where we had to spend 5 mute days, but just 60 minutes a day. I think I went wanting to embrace it because life is so noisy and I’m a massive socialite, but also, life is full, and we’ve got lots going on, and we’ve been talking today about just the struggle in finding that space. So when somebody says, “here you are, have a retreat”, and then every day you get an hour, you think “oh wonderful, it’s going to be glorious and I’m going to think all these thoughts, and God’s going to talk to me and it’s going to be marvellous and wonderful”, and actually, the reality is that noise isn’t just made up of Amazon deliveries and phone calls from school and washing machines and even in the quietest place in the countryside, noise is there. And none of it is louder than thought, and how do you stop and be still and listen? And at that point in the retreat, I felt a real jarring of this. A real discomfort and a real “I don’t know how to do this.” I felt really ill-equipped to be quiet. Having done 12 years of parenting, I think that creates a lot of excess noise, doesn’t it.
H: Having kids. So yeah, I felt really ill-equipped. We were challenged to share, if we wanted to, what had happened in the silence. I walked into that room and I thought, “what’s happened is I feel really frustrated, I can’t switch off my mind, I can’t switch off the noise, even in the most lovely surroundings and environment, this is really tough.
C: Yeah. One of the things I loved about that reflection was just the honesty of it. And a really clear description of just what that noise feels like. You think “it’s all going to be tranquil”, and suddenly you realise that it’s not. And that maybe there’s a reason that you keep the radio on all the time, and there’s a reason it’s quite helpful to put the music on in the car, because actually, there’s also noise going on inside.
H: I think we often have these thoughts – people talk about their “quiet times” and these sort of “I go for these long walks in the hills on my own”, people talk very positively about having those sacred spaces where they can be on their own, but I think like all things, there’s a flip side to that and there’s another side to that. When it’s so juxtaposed to your everyday, it’s a skill that you have to acquire and you have to learn and you have to work at. It’s symptomatic of maybe deeper things that are going on. Why is it that we can’t block out the noise? Why is it that the thoughts are loud? It’s helpful sometimes to actually call it what it is and say “this is really tough and I don’t know what to do.”
C: Did it shine a light on particular things that were going on for you, that “well actually I can’t be quiet”?
H: Yeah. I think I’d always felt a real guilt. My Mum and Dad are wonderful, just the best people. Every morning they have a quiet time. My Mum has always found a space in our house and every day the door gets shut and everybody knows it’s Mum’s quiet time. For as long as I can remember, even when I was tiny, I remember, that was Mum’s space. For me, that was the ‘Mecca’ of quiet times. That’s what we need to aspire to. I’m a very different character to my Mum. In some ways. When you get older I think you think that you’re more like your parents than you think, in some ways. That’s definitely happened to me. But I think I saw that as the gold standard of a relationship with Jesus. That you have to have that half an hour, or that 20 minutes, of quiet time every day. It confronted me with the reality that I felt like a terrible Christian. Like I did not have my … stuff … together, and it had been a struggle. Maybe the reasons why is that you can take me out of the noise, but you can’t take the noise out of me. Actually, how do I have those intimate times with Jesus, despite not being able to sit and do meditation and contemplative, because that feels like a real barrier. I’m not saying that stuff’s bad, at all, I think it’s excellent, and it’s great, but it can’t be the only thing in order to connect with Jesus.
C: Oh completely.
H: That was a real thing in the retreat that we went to, we were very much immersed in that we are loved sons and daughters of God. So how does being a loved daughter of God go hand in hand with the noise in my head? And the two can sit together hand in hand.
C: Yes. Because interestingly, parents love their kids even if they’re loud.
H: Mmm, funny that.
C: Yeah, isn’t it?
C: Love is not reserved for the quiet introverts who like to sit in the corner and read. So have you found ways that those two things have come together?
H: I’ve always loved writing, and I write blogs, and I remember very little about school, but I remember writing in real life is something I love doing and I actually have struggled to find time to write. I had a blog for a little while, but, y’know, life. I think I have found that writing in those quiet spaces, for me, really helps to focus my mind and help me to hear. I think a lot of … if you don’t trust the voice that you’re hearing, it’s easier to drown it out. Writing it out means that I can reflect on it and go “ooh, actually, that doesn’t feel right” at a later point, or “let me develop that thought a little bit more”. So I think for me actually that in writing down that silence wasn’t there and it was really hard, has actually given me the tool to be able to embrace the silence and wait for God to speak, and me to channel that through writing it down. Which I guess is journaling, isn’t it? Effectively. But I’ve never been very good at stuff that feels like a solution. Y’know, “just do this and then you’ll be fine, and just do this, and then you’ll be fine.” I’m inherently a rebel. I don’t know if you knew that about me, Catherine. I don’t really like the rules. So call it journaling, and I won’t do it. But call it just hanging out with Jesus and seeing what He says and writing some stuff down, then I’m fine with that.
C: Yeah, coz journaling’s gone a bit ‘cool’, hasn’t it? It’s a bit on-trend.
H: I’m not on trend!
C: You wouldn’t want to be on-trend, Hannah.
H: Absolutely not! *both laugh* Absolutely not, no way. That would mean I have to have one book where I write stuff, whereas what I have is post-it notes and random notepads where you say to me “why don’t we talk about some of your reflections?” and I say “excellent” and have to look in 15 notebooks before I found the one that I wrote in. *laughs* Oh dear… But actually, having that quiet space and I think I’m still on a journey with that, with trying to find those times where I can sit and listen and write. Partly actually, I’m good when there’s accountability in there. Catherine and I went out for lunch today and then she MADE me walk along the canal, didn’t you?
C: I did
H: Dropped me off in a random car park in Stoke, and then MADE me walk along the canal on my own. *both laugh*
C: That sounds awful!
H: You did!
C: Can I just point out, this is a car park, next to a nice pub, next to a canal.
H: Yeah, it was in the back end of Stoke
C: In a village! In a village!
H: Apart from being dropped in a random car park, it’s a bit like Hunted, isn’t it? Find your way back *both laugh*
C: I resist! I resist this portrayal!
H: BUT actually, having that time was great! I was able to write some stuff down and think about some stuff that I want to do. And it was so helpful. A few weeks ago we’d had a really tough time at work and a colleague and I just spent the afternoon together, and as part of the processing what was going on, we said “let’s go and have 45 minutes on our own, let’s go off, have a think, see what God says”. She came back. She came back with some thoughts and I came back with another piece of writing that I’d jotted down, and I think when I do it, it’s so helpful, so, so helpful. I just need to – it’s that not falling into kind of religious, I have to do it every Monday morning and Friday lunchtime, or whatever, but actually, because life is chaotic, and my circumstances are extremely chaotic at the minute and I don’t know what I’m doing one day to the next, but actually when I do have those moments of “I can have an hour” is embracing it.
C: Yeah, and embracing the fact that it’s not going to happen all the time.
H: Yeah, absolutely
C: I think one of the interesting things which people overplay is the fact that Jesus went up a mountainside to be by himself with God. What we don’t know from the text is how often He did that. And so quite often what comes back is this expectation of “Jesus went up the mountain, He must have done it every day, therefore you must do it every day.” And we don’t necessarily know that. Because things were chaotic. Because there were crowds around the place. And there often wasn’t space in Jesus’ life. So maybe it was like those gems that you get, where sometimes there was the opportunity to go and do it. But we don’t know how often it was. I don’t know how many times it’s recorded. If it’s only the number of times we’ve got recorded in the gospels, it wasn’t very often at all. If it was the mythical quiet time – “well He was obviously up the mountain every morning!” Well, maybe it was every morning, but we don’t know.
H: I think also it’s not the only way I connect with God.
C: THAT was gonna be my other question. Where do you connect with God in the noise? In the noisier pieces of connection, where else does it happen?
H: I think it happens all the time, doesn’t it? You can be in be in a hospital room having those sudden moments where you see the Spirit at work. Or you go for a coffee with a friend and you’re reminded of something that God has done, or you see the kindness of a stranger. I think parenting gives you multiple times where you have to just trust in Jesus and sit and hear the quiet reminder of the value in the everyday. I think so often I fell into the trap of “I have to live this sensationalist life where I make this BIG impact and have these BIG moments.” We grew up with the, what was it?
C: The Toronto blessing
H: The Toronto blessing. I grew up as a teenager in that era of big, tangible moves of God where He would do something amazing. Actually, so much of God is in the making spag bol and serving your kids, picking them up from school, and the laying your life down for other people in some capacity is so like Christ, isn’t it?
H: I just think there these beautiful moments that we can see regularly, that we can hear from God, and just these nuggets all the time that we can miss if we pursue something too grandiose.
C: Yeah. When we were talking earlier, you were talking about the fast and the slow work of the Spirit. And the interesting observation, actually, that in Jesus’ life, the fast work of the Spirit often happened when He met somebody just the once. And something really significant happened. But actually with His disciples, that was much slower. Parenting is like that, isn’t it? I’m just thinking of my 2 who came home aged 3 & 5 having had a difficult time elsewhere, so we’ve not been a family for the length of time that they’ve been alive, and that has been slow. But it’s been all of those little consistent, lots and lots of little moments of connection and love that have deepened our relationship. I think back to my own Christian life and how…angsty, actually, I was, and how scared of God I was when I was a Christian in my early 20s. And I don’t feel like that any more, and it really mirrors that journey that I’ve seen my kids go on, of entering new family, a new home, really very very scared, and scared of connection, and scared of relationship. And I’m not saying all of that has completely disappeared, but we’re 11 years down the line, and there is a real softening and a relaxing and a joy in being together, that has grown. In the same way that for me there is a real joy in being with God that has grown. I’m not so scared any more. But it’s been a slow work of the Spirit. A slow work, but a beautiful one.
H: Absolutely. I would say that the word that describes my last 10 years – well, 5 years at least – has been one of unlearning. Unlearning the falsehoods that I had absorbed from all over the place. There isn’t one person that I can credit my bad theology to. Effectively, I just felt the constant need to please God and to “do better” because I wasn’t good enough. That was over-arching. This desperate need to be acknowledged and this desperate need to be seen as good enough by God, and just learning that I am good enough because He’s good enough.
C: Yes. Yeah. What is love about if it’s not about delighting in someone?
C: So how we get to this point of constantly telling one another that we need to try harder and do better because God is “probably a bit disappointed” is the underlying message, isn’t it? You’re obviously not praying hard enough, because you need to listen to this sermon and decides that the best thing to do now is to pray more.
H: My oldest daughter had obstructive sleep apnoea, until she was 7, she had her tonsils taken out, so it is where your tonsils are so huge that your airway blocks during your sleep. She had this horrible condition that we didn’t know what it was, and she didn’t sleep, ever. She would sleep for an hour at a time and then wake up. We were in this perpetual cycle of just being awake, what felt like all the time. I remember going to somebody and being like, “I am so tired, I’m broken.” Anyone with a new baby, that tiredness of “I haven’t slept and I have to be responsible for someone” is crippling. And I remember them advising me to “get up earlier” to pray. That was their advice.
C: Ohh, gosh
H: And I tried, I tried it for one day, and I was more broken than before. I don’t think they would say the same thing now, because they’ve grown, and they’ve been loved by Jesus. But I just think, “Oh my goodness, that’s some of the unlearning that you have to do.” Now I think, if that was my child going through that with their child, I would say “give me the baby, go upstairs and have a –
*both talk over each other*
C: a snooze, yeah // H: a nap
H: Have a nap. And you’re great, keep going.” And I know we’ve talked about ‘God-culture’ that has been around, and I just think so much of my last 5 years has been learning that God delights in me. He delights in me, and He loves me, and He loves me, and He loves me. That’s the most important foundation of “He’s angry with me and disappointed in me”.
C: Coming back to silence and that retreat, I wonder how God spoke to you in the days following that, having confronted that silence thing and still having several days of “get up for an hour and spend time”. I wonder if you were able to be more relaxed in the ones that came afterwards.
H: No, I don’t think I was at all, I think I got really grumpy. I struggled. I don’t think I had this epiphany on day 1 of “oh, lovely, silence is to be embraced and I’m going to write and it’s going to be marvellous”. I think I really struggled with that. I wrote a couple of reflective bits after that, and I think there was just a real awareness of – you know sometimes when stuff just gets brought to the light?
H: Like if you’ve got a weird lump and finally you go to the GP and you’re like, “I’ve got this weird lump, it’s probably fine” and they’re like “oh, it needs cutting out and removing”. And I think that retreat for me was an exposing time, where God shone light on some of my stuff that I had to give back to Him. And that was painful. I didn’t really know anyone on the retreat either. I’m delighted to have met the people that I did, and have formed friendships, and it was a real time of blessing as well, but it’s hard. It’s hard when you go into that arena and there is a sense of loneliness and “well what do I do now?” because it’s lovely having the stuff exposed when you’re in the safety of a nice venue and you’ve got nice food that you’re not cooking and you’re not washing and you don’t have anyone else to look after for those few days, but actually when you’re back in the thick of it, in life and in reality. The biggest thing was exchanging my thought process of being a servant of God that was never quite good enough, to a child of God, who’s deeply loved.
H: And is enough. It sounds really trite, and a bit kind of…
C: It’s actually really profound.
H: Oh, it’s utterly profound. And I’ve heard that so many times, you’re a child of God, you’re a child of God. But you’re sometimes, like, God does some “heart surgery” on you. And that for me was a bit of a heart surgery moment. Which has been profound since. But it was incredibly difficult at the time.
C: I would observe, though, that you talk about you often hear “you are a child of God”. I would observe, though, that frequently that happens in the context of people saying to you “But you need to pray more, and you need to do more of this, and you need to do more of that”, and there is something about having permission to simply be yourself. And being in a place where you are being encouraged to just relax and be and be yourself and where there isn’t a whole pile of “well we’re gonna work harder and we’re gonna do more”. So I wonder whether there was something about that lack of expectation to come away with a sort of spiritual to-do list that was maybe helpful.
H: Oh, really helpful! I think I went expecting to come home with a spiritual to-do list. I think the gold standard like I said before for me had been half an hour quiet time in the morning, with God, and I had to come away almost not having that to lean on? Because actually it’s comforting, when you have something to aspire that you know will sort your life out, but actually because your life isn’t sorted out, it’s because “you’ve failed”. It puts your hope in you.
C: It also keeps the expectation of change in something fairly small and theoretically manageable. So if I can just have a quiet time…
H: If I can just, yeah.
C: And it will be better, I just need to do a bit better at my half hour quiet time. To you’re right to come away and say, “that thing doesn’t work”. So that’s not the answer. There are lots of things in life like that, aren’t there? If you just become fitter, or if you just lose some weight. Or if you just sort out the right way of writing your to-do list. Then that will sort it all out.
H: It’s that tension between the fast and the slow, because sometimes it is an instant change in behaviour that can unlock something in your relationship with God, it is dealing with that thing that you’ve always struggled with, and verbalising it and praying into it. There is that creating a new habit that can do something, but actually, it is that slow learning and discipleship, and filtering out the rubbish, and learning more of God and the still small voice, and just slowly following Him and trusting Him even when I’m not doing all of those things that I “should” be doing, that I’ve been taught are the “fruit” of a Christian – reading my bible, praying, giving to charity. And actually the fruit of the Spirit is… love. And patience and kindness.
C: And mainly love.
H: And mainly love. And mainly love. Actually, that’s a constant learning and unlearning. It’s the beautiful patience that God has with us, and allows us in His kindness, those kind of spaces to go, “I love you, first and foremost. I love you. And I love you. You’re not my servant. You’re not here to fulfil a list of things to do for Me; you’re my child. And I love you.” And that is a hugely vulnerable place to be.
H: Because you don’t have the crutch of something that you can do to prove that you’re good enough.
C: Yes, you just have to be. And you’re also letting go of that crutch of “well, I’m almost there but I just need to sort these things out”.
H: Yeah, yeah.
C: It also interests me in our conversation that actually you started off by saying, “I’m embracing the fact that I’m a people person”, and then you talked about the silence and the trickiness of that. And discovering the journaling. And then one of the things I’ve noticed is, that actually, the journaling becomes easier in the context of other people. So for example, being with your work colleague, who you both said “we’ll go and we’ll spend a bit of time…” and then you did your journaling and then you came back. So yeah, there is something, isn’t there, about just embracing the way that we are and we do things.
H: Yeah, absolutely, and I think again that’s been a revelation fairly recently. It sounds ridiculous, but not everyone is a people person. And it is a gift.
C: It really is, yeah.
H: I always thought “I’m a people person, but everyone’s a poeple person if they just do…”. But actually, the thing that doesn’t float my boat is a tick-list, a to-do list, and ‘having to’. I reference that in my reflection. “Did I mention my to-do list?” It is like a dark cloud over my head. Whereas being with people is sunshine, to me. So actually, how can we do the things that are good for our soul, in the way that is helpful.
C: For you there’s an element of adding some community into that, adding some people. Even if the only thing the people are saying is “let’s both disappear off in different directions and reflect”.
H: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I wish I had embraced parts of my character sooner than I have.
C: And that comes back to believing that somebody delights in you. And thinks that those things are really cool.
H: And has created me, to be that. I have been created to be around people. I think that gives you a kind of “oh wow”, like actually God’s created me to be like this, so how can we do that together? How can we bless people? How can we love people? How can we do that with this thing that he’s put in me? Like the gift of administration. Every church that handles a budget is desperate for some kind of financially savvy administrator, who, for the benefit of God’s people, and the church, and the Bride of Christ, can use their gifting, and I think, “gosh, actually, that’s a real responsibility to have in the gifts that you have”, and it can be used as a real blessing, like it’s a great thing for God to put something in you and how he’s created us.
C: I’m just remembering, and maybe we’ll finish with this, the quote by the great St. Oscar Wilde, who said –
C: Who said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
H: Absolutely. It’s really hard when we look at the kind of gold standard of Christianity, and it doesn’t fit with who you are. So we have to re-think that. We have to…actually, the gold standard of being a Christ-follower is love.
C: Yeah. So let’s do more love, and less lists.
H: Definitely! Unless you’re a lists person.
C: Thank you ever so much Hannah, that’s been great.
H: Thank you for having me.
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Thank you for listening.