Words, words, words! Good listeners are few and far between. Most of us love the sound of our own voices rather than the voice of God. We will never truly know God without shutting up, slowing down and staying put. My propensity for verbosity has often hindered my spiritual growth. Here’s my story.
Daddy named me Julie because I entered the world on a sweltering day in July. He dubbed me Julie Gail because he instinctively knew I’d be full of hot air and would blow through life like a whirlwind.
The world was filled with wonderful words and sounds, and I wanted to sing and say all of them (except the naughty ones, of course). I chattered all the way through preschool. My classmates didn’t seem to mind, but I heard my teacher tell my Mom I was “a bit of a handful.” Is that why my naptime was twice as long as everyone else’s? None of the other kids got to share their treasures at Show and Tell because I sprinted to the front of the class, waxed eloquent for ten minutes about my Twinkies and my goldfish Boo Boo without drawing a breath. Sydney Nettleworth didn’t seem to mind. She was petrified to talk in public, even about Puffy her guinea pig or the magical corny dog she downed at Der Wienerschnitzel.
Elementary school rules placed unwelcome constraints on my motor-mouth. Every kindergarten child wistfully dreamt of laying aside Crayolas and play dough for a lunch box and a Fun with Dick and Jane reader. Some of my kindergarten cronies had apprehensions about the big brick box down the street that was L.O. Donald School, but not me. I was sure I would take the place by storm. After all, I already knew my ABC’s and could tie the “Bunny ears” on my sneakers. Mom received the school supply list with the necessary items to begin my scholastic career: a pink eraser, lined paper, Elmer’s glue, and of course, my number two pencil. I stared at my closet in a quandary: I had my jumper and sneakers, but how to accessorize? I badgered Mommy with questions. Do I have to wear a petticoat? Petticoats were hot and itchy. Would I have to carry a sweater? Sweaters were for babies and old people. Did I get a locker or a cubby? I wanted a locker like the big kids down the street. Mom shut me up by stuffing a fruit rollup in my mouth and sending me outside to play.
On the first day of school, the alarm clock buzzed and I shot out of bed like a rocket. Mommy and Daddy walked me to the bus, looking very relieved. We were herded to the black top in the schoolyard, and Principal Moffett called out each name. We were to line up behind our teacher. “Julie Tacker,” he said. “Here!” I chirped. “Mrs. Hubbard, Turtle Class.”
Well, I was no idiot. Four classes of first graders huddled together: the Turtles, the Lambs, the Bunnies, and the Slugs. The Bunnies bounced, the Turtles crept, the Lambs dawdled, and the Slugs rode the short bus. My birthday was in July, so the powers that be assumed I was a “Turtle,” a late-bloomer. I hated those bunnies already. However, Mrs. Hubbard did seem nice. She had a shiny barrette in her hair and a striped dress that made her look like June Cleaver on “Leave It to Beaver.”
Poor Mrs. Hubbard . . . she never saw it coming. The hurricane that was me blew into her once peaceful classroom. I ran around the room’s perimeter at least three times to be sure I saw every bulletin board and eraser. I told everyone who’d listen that I had Fruit Loops for breakfast and that my favorite color was red. Then I moved on to important questions like “When is recess?” and “Why do I have to sit behind Bobby Gibble? He always has gas.” If Mrs. Hubbard had a question, my hand shot up like Sputnik and I blurted the answer. It didn’t matter if I knew the answer or even heard the question. I still got to talk. After a few boring spelling words and a half hour of addition, the lunch bell finally rang. I grabbed my Barbie lunch box and bolted for the door. Mrs. Hubbard grabbed me by the nape of the neck and sentenced me to the back of the line. I guessed most of first grade would be spent in stony silence, waiting and standing in line. The Turtle life was not the life for me.
When we arrived at the lunchroom, I rattled on like a machine gun about Howdy Doody, Mr. Moffett, my little sister Kathy, the dog next door, and my yummy Twinkies. (I have since learned that the delicious cream filling is used to cement the solar panels on the Space Shuttle.) Mrs. Hubbard had finally had her fill of this little chatterbox. She sentenced me to solitary confinement with my nose in the corner. I had to stand, motionless and silent, by the water fountain for twenty-five more minutes. Oh, the scandal! Oh, the humiliation! Shamed on this, the day of all days, my first day of school! Shortly after, I was transferred to the Bunny class. They were a little more my speed.
I finally learned that every thought that enters my head should not immediately burst out of my mouth. As I’ve grown up spiritually, I’ve had to control my tongue and open my ears. It’s hard to hear God speak when I’m always talking. Though it’s not easy to be still and listen, I never regret the precious insight revealed in those times of holy quiet.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10