Last night I was at a talk by the directory of Ignatius House in Atlanta. I’ve known her for many years. We made our Cursillo weekends at the same time. We walked for an hour or so early in the morning for nearly a year. She is a Myers-Briggs extrovert, I an introvert. So, it is fascinating watch and hear this woman who draws energy from talking and interaction and doing speak about how her first silent retreat had such a profound impact on her life because the answers and insights came from within. She just had to be slowed down and made quiet long enough to be able to hear and pay attention.

Then, this morning I was trying to encourage another, older friend to pursue OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learner Institute) classes. I particularly enjoy “Writing Our Lives” — a class that aims to help people write better and in particular, to write memoirs. Me? I use it as a push to journal. I am primarily interested in telling my story to myself so that I can begin to understand and accept this person that lives inside my skin. There are days I really like her, and days when she mystifies me, and days when I really don’t want her around. Writing is personal to me. It helps me to get to know me, and if anyone else is interested, that is fine. (If you are reading this, you are one of the few that might be interested).

Anyway, my friend, not knowing much about OLLI, seemed overwhelmed at the thought of taking classes. I found myself explaining that there is really no homework (unless you want to do something outside of class — like in the Spanish classes I take), and there are no grades. “No tests? No grades?” she asked, suprised. “Then how do you know you are improving?””

I felt myself stop cold. My first, silent, reaction was “What kind of dumb question is that? Can’t you tell when you are improving?” I’ve been mulling it over. I still rather feel that way — I am comfortable with my own evaluation of my progress. It seems a bit sad to think that someone requires another person to pass judgement on whether they are learning anything. Yes, being accountable to someone else can help me move forward and stay on track. But, listening to God within, is the thing that can actually make a difference.

I worked for many years at a job where my bosses and I were seldom on the same page. I think I had to learn to listen to myself and be true to what I believed to be job that needed doing, no matter what they thought. If I had only done what they thought necessary, the results would have been disastrous. I was hired to take care of technology and computer security and I simply had to do what was required despite the often incomprehension of those I worked for. It resulted in learning to listen to myself and try to move beyond the negative feedback from those around me. It wasn’t easy. It added to other issues, and I dare say it contributed to depression. But, in the long run, it has been a lesson worth the anguish. That external validation is good, but it cannot be the rudder that guides the course. That rudder, that compass is between me and the Creator.

And so, I hope my friend can move to the place where she is comfortable with the idea that tests and grades are not the yardstick by which she must measure herself… that will be a joyful day for all.