“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;” James 1:19

We have all found different ways of coping with the pandemic. One way that gained a lot of traction for people was learning how to make sourdough, making the hashtag #sourdough trendy in 2020 and 2021. As with most trends, I jumped on the bandwagon a little late. This past fall, my generous brother-in-law shared with me his sourdough starter. He put the starter in a Ziploc bag and packed it carefully in my suitcase for my flight home from Nebraska. Although the dough exploded in the bag, I was able to salvage enough of the starter to refresh it in its new home. Later, I made one somewhat decent loaf with the bread, but life got in the way, and I forgot to feed the remaining starter. I tried to revive it, but something was terribly wrong with the dough. It didn’t bubble and ferment like it should, instead it was runny and gray. So, the unnamed starter (I am convinced that, because it didn’t have a name, it felt defeated and gave up) ended up in the trash.

Still determined, I cracked open the King Arthur Cookbook and started to read about bread. I learned the importance of water temperature, ingredients, kneading, scoring, and baking. I also read something that shocked me. According to the experts at King Arthur Baking, “If you bake bread all the time, your kitchen is full of wild yeast and any dough you make there will rise vigorously.” Conversely, the book said, if you don’t bake bread often, your kitchen is sterile, and it will take longer for bread to rise. Their test kitchen in Vermont is full of wild yeast, and they use a scant 1/16 teaspoon of yeast for every three cups of flour!

Photo credit by Terry Collins

Yeast is a living organism that, under optimal conditions, gives bread its unique properties. But this primarily happens through its waste products. The experts at King Arthur say that it releases “carbon dioxide which leavens the bread; alcohol, which contributes to the bread’s aroma; and organic acids, which give its flavor.” These optimal conditions are related to temperature, the right ratio of flour to water, and even a little sugar. I envisioned that someday I would have wild yeast floating around my kitchen. This wouldn’t happen overnight and certainly wasn’t in the air right now. But after consistently practicing the art of making bread, the wild yeast would grow and help ferment, flavor, and create breads unique to the Collins home.

I will be beginning my own sourdough starter in a week. I need to block some time out to carefully attend to this starter daily. It can take a few weeks to get the fermentation going, with a daily feeding schedule. I’ve heard a lot of bakers refer to their starters as a baby, and hence why most have a name. But after consistent care on my part, this starter should grow and take on the properties of a good crusty sourdough bread, adding to the wild yeast in my home.

Along with the fine art of baking bread, I am learning the fine art of listening well. Maybe most of my readers have mastered this skill, but for some reason it has taken me almost fifty years to get it right. Its more than just being silent while someone tells their story. It’s more than being attentive and nodding your head at the right moments. It’s more than showing sympathy that often comes off as pity. It’s looking at the person, asking good questions, validating their feelings without judgment, and not trying to fix their problems. It’s letting them share some hard things in their life and being present with them. It’s having enough awareness of your own triggers that you don’t become defensive if the person is addressing issues related to you. It’s hard!!!

A few weeks ago, someone I love shared some hard truths with me. They expressed some legitimate anger. They shared how my inaction had contributed to some brokenness in their life. It wasn’t something I had done deliberately, but it was something I missed. And what I missed was big! While they were talking, I kept my own emotions in check, choosing not to attempt to fix the situation or defend my actions. All I could say was that I understood their anger and ask for forgiveness. We both left the situation in a good place, healing for both of us and the relationship repaired.

I haven’t done this well with everyone in my life. There are a lot of times I have been defensive, have gone into fix-it mode, or have tried to speak what I thought was truth into their lives. This has left the other person feeling invalidated, creating more problems. Craig Thompson, my favorite psychiatrist (who says that?), talks a lot about the importance of being seen, soothed, safe and secure. When we share hard truths with one another, it can often produce what he calls a rupture in the relationship. The rupture is repaired when the listener stays, validates, and loves unconditionally. It changes the neural pathways in your brain, and helps you become the fully integrated human that God intended.

But this only happens when I practice listening well. It’s a skill I have been cultivating this past summer. And the more I do it, the more I see God being glorified in my relationships. God, like the wild yeast that makes our sourdough better, is orchestrating this healing through His divine design. But for wild yeast to exist, I need to make bread, and for God to do His work, I need to create an atmosphere where others feel fully heard, fully known, and fully loved!

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