When I read this post by my new friend, Shawn Smucker, I cried. Not just oh my eyes blurred a little but full out, shaking shoulders, giant tears. Part of my life’s work is to teach people to pay attention to what makes them cry, because tears are tiny messengers sent from the deepest part of who we are. Trace them back and there you’ll find your deepest desires.
When we are aware of our deepest desire, we are one step closer to becoming more fully ourselves.
I’m grateful to Shawn for writing these words, for sharing them with our community here, and for giving me reason to reflect on those deep desires coming alive within me. I hope these words do the same for you.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
There are many wonderful spiritual disciplines. Silence. Meditation. Study. Celebration. Prayer. They are practices that will change us on a fundamental level, activities that tune us in to the direction of the Spirit.
And then there is what I like to call The Spiritual Discipline of Looking for Sammy’s Blanket in the Middle of the Night.
Because no matter how many times you remind a child to leave their blanket in their bed, and no matter how often during the day you direct them to return the blanket to the bed, once night falls, and the shadows gather around the house, the blanket is nowhere to be found.
When you are nearly asleep, and just as the cares of the world are melting away into a sleepy haze, this child will come to your room with a quivering lip and watery eyes and tell you that he was almost asleep when he realized Moe is not in the bed (Moe is the name of the blanket).
And, even though it’s the last thing on Earth you feel like doing, you will slowly walk the house with them, searching each and every room, glancing under tables and behind sofas, double- and triple-checking the laundry. You will wake other children to see if they know Moe’s whereabouts.
And most nights you will find it. But some nights you won’t.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
For three months I’ve been waiting for something. You probably know what it’s like. You’ve waited, too, for many crucial (and not so crucial) things: a final diagnosis, an offer, a closing date, a yes or no, a call back, word on that promotion or potential adoption. Waiting to become pregnant. Waiting for your children to grow up. Waiting for retirement.
I’m nearly forty now, neither young nor old, but I know this: I could spend my whole life obsessing over THAT THING I’m currently waiting for. Because the waiting? The searching? The wondering?
It never ends. There’s always something OUT THERE. There’s always something just beyond my grasp. Maybe this is what it means to be alive: longing. There’s always something I’m looking for, and sometimes I find it. But often I don’t.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
While we usually obsess over the thing we’re waiting for, the thing we want, what the waiting can do for us, can do in us, is never about that thing. I know, I know. I’m not making sense.
How about this:
While my son and I comb the house for his blanket, what’s happening in us during those late-night searches has nothing to do with the blanket. He is learning that I love him enough to go with him into the dark places. He is learning that I will leave my comfort in order to help him find his. He is learning, hopefully, that the best place to leave his blanket during the day is in his bed. He is learning, in his own childlike way, to “accept the anxiety of feeling himself in suspense and incomplete.”
While I continue to wait for this thing that may or may not happen, what’s happening in me has nothing to do with the end result. There is “a new spirit gradually forming within” me, especially if I can believe that I am not wandering this dark house alone.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Italicized sections by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Shawn is a pilgrim trying to grow beyond the noise of this world.
He is the co-writer and author of many books, including the young adult novel that grapples with the concept of death, The Day the Angels Fell.
He lives in the city of Lancaster, PA, with his wife and five (soon to be six) children.
You can connect with Shawn at his website, ShawnSmucker.com.