“How often it is difficult for most of us to give solitude any sort of priority in the kind of life that we live today. How we avoid it; how we are frightened of being alone; how easy it is never to let it happen; there is always something or someone to fill the void, even if it is no more than turning to the radio for company. I guess that it is a question of inner conviction as well as external pressure. The world simply does not understand this need to be alone.”
– Esther de Waal, Living With Contradiction
Solitude. Silence. Peace. Joy…
And writing forces you to be patient. It also forces you to grow.
In our world, these are so important, and so hard to come by.
But writing also makes you focus on what you really want. And often, I’ve found it reveals where I’m still coming up short….
I’ve always told people I have to write before I know what I think about things. But it’s more than that. I have to write because it shows me where my heart is and how much progress I’m making in the real categories that matter.
Today I helped a homeless man. At least, that’s what he told me he was. Experience said not to believe his story about needing gas. But how many times have I been asked and not helped? This time, here he was, obviously in need, whether or not his story was genuine.
In writing I’ve been learning to value the quiet voice that speaks above the other voices of cynicism, of bitterness and impatience.
He came up as we stood in line to order. His name was Kevin. He had a $20 gift card he’d trade us for cash. I could verify it with the cashier. He just needed gas. We had no cash, but I asked him to wait and I ordered our food and asked him to follow me to the station so I could fill his car. He tried to give me the gift card, but I said I knew how it was to be down. He showed me his duffel in the trunk and said he was living in his car and had been staying in the Walmart parking lot.
He thanked me and as I pulled away, his got into his car, and put his face in his hands.
It’s below freezing tonight.
It’s a wonder any of us survive this world. We have a house full of food but here we are at a restaurant after church. Can I ignore and not surrender to the truth that my heart would not survive the hypocrisy, the cancer that would eat me from the inside if I didn’t at least try to see, try to help, try to give just something? Even the least I can do?
It’s Christmastime, after all. And the need all around us is suffocating.
Advent is upon us, the time of waiting. No one wants to wait for anything in our world. Even the moment of silence following the prayer in church needs that purposeful description “moment silent of reflection” to be accepted. And still we get restless if it goes on too long.
God forgive me the times I fail to see because of rushing by so fast. Help me to give up more than an undisturbed lunch. I plead for my own sake, but let me plead, too, for the least of these.
How is it that in solitude, in writing, I’m learning to be grateful, to give thanks and be my full self, fully available and in the moment with others? It’s a paradox how this solitary pursuit brings patience, makes us better companions, more aware of others and their needs.
Isn’t this learning to be truly thankful the continual work of higher purpose writers? Writing is my way to maintain a thankful attitude. It undergirds and empowers the work, my faith and my life. And it does so through teaching me patience.
If you aren’t good at this yet, join the club I guess. I’m learning that no one who doesn’t practice daily can be good at thanksgiving. Maybe like musicians, the key to pretty much everything is learning to slow down. And aren’t all things worth doing difficult before they become easy?
I already know there’s virtually nothing in this whole green earth that can’t be made greater through delaying your possession of it. But it’s head knowledge. I know it isn’t the object of our desire that’s made better but us and our perception of the thing.
I know nothing worth having comes without cost, and it always costs work, patience and sacrifice. Money can’t buy these things; they only come through patient work.
I know Ben Franklin said that “he who can have patience can have what he will.” He knew too—patience is the key to everything.
But it’s in practicing it–in solitude maybe first, and then in helping others–that we truly come to know it.
Maybe what we can’t see yet with eternal eyes, what we have yet to accept about our lives, our selves, our situation, our gifts, our place, our relationships, our possessions, our failures and weaknesses–all these things in unison–we simply need to understand that just because we can’t see what’s really there doesn’t mean a thing. We’re all blind to what’s good and true in life. If we can’t accept the things we have are good, maybe we can at least accept that it’s because we simply can’t see that they are.
There’s something good in everything we tend to label “bad,” “wrong,” “failure,” “empty,” “useless,” “evil,” “broken,” “ugly.” W have weak eyes. We can’t see because we’ve never exercised our eyes. And maybe if we asked to see and waited patiently for opportunities to help others, it would eventually be revealed.
Maybe we could redeem the time and create beauty by trusting that waiting will magnify and define what’s truly good and beautiful.
In that way, maybe only patience can create our new eyes…
I believe God will work if we let him have all we consider unredeemed. And I already believe there are some things no other force in existence can resolve but patience.
But today, I hope I came one step closer to putting that faith into action. I’m tired of knowing things and doing nothing. Maybe writing is helping me finally learn I also have to live what I believe.
I don’t know what will happen to you tonight, Kevin, my new homeless friend. I wish I could have helped more. I hope you find that shelter. I pray you get that new job you mentioned. I hope you can know how much your future depends on holding onto that faint flicker of hope you have.
God make you truly grateful and keep you in his love.
For his best in your life, in your work, and for his highest purpose for you,
“We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”
– Helen Keller