…even after many years of education and formation, even after the good advice and counsel of many, I can still say with Dante, “In the middle of the way of our life I find myself in a dark wood.” This experience is frightful as well as exhilarating because it is the great experience of being alone, alone in the world, alone before God. – H. Nouwen, (Reaching Out)
Not that too long ago, when I first read this in the foreword to Reaching Out, I was a little dubious as to how exhilarating ‘being alone’ could be. At most I could understand it as being a necessary part of life. I could even understand that it is important that I learn to be alone. But ‘exhilarating’? Come on! :P
Yet… somehow over the past few weeks, a new understanding borne of a change that had begun deep within me had budded. And in the last week or so, that bud had begun to unfurl its petals. Maybe it’s just by the tiniest bit. But in the desert of my parched soul, that little bud was hailed with a mix of jubilation and sorrow. Jubilation because that bud of understanding is extremely significant to my life, and because it liberates me from some very dogged chains. Sorrow, just a little, because now I finally realize just how enslaved I had been and how it had taken me more than twenty years to come to this point. But perhaps sorrow is too strong a word, for I do not mourn.
The knowledge that there are chains that bind me no longer cripple me with fear or shame. And this lesson that I had taken twenty years to learn is such a great lesson for myself that I am more joyous that I’ve reached this new point of learning than I am sad at how long it has taken. Indeed, this lesson of being alone touches on such a deep and subconscious fear in my being that I appreciate why it has been lovingly tailored for me over such an extended period of time!
My mom always liked to use the analogy of cooking porridge or soup – the best ones are cooked over slow and controlled fire over a long period of time. If the cook is impatient and cooks it over too high a flame, the porridge would be ruined and the soup would be bland. God, the foremost Pedagogue, knows to my benefit that the most important lessons in life are best learned through deep personal experience and reflection (the slow fire), and over long periods of time. I am thrilled and humbled at His patience with me!
Gems of wisdom are often expressed in vague and even paradoxical terms not chiefly because words are a poor vehicle for conveying them, but because the true essence of such gems cannot be understood with the mind alone. These gems cannot be taught, and can be easily misunderstood if one grasped merely the form of the principle. I believe that is why the wisest teachers do not try to teach such gems, but provide lovingly calibrated guidance, space, and time for the student to discover them on her own.
Appreciating solitude does not mean I ought not enjoy company on my journey. Ironically, when I stand up and take fuller ownership of my own life and decisions, I free myself to give and receive even more beautiful fellowship because my relationships are not driven by the fear of loneliness.
I am broken and I am weak, but it’s lovely to realize there’s so much I can accomplish and learn from that very brokenness. I am beginning to understand now why I need not fear or loathe the dark crevices of my soul.
When I set aside my pride and acknowledged that I am broken, God gave me the grace to see my brokenness in a new light. In the light of His love and grace, I am learning to turn my weaknesses into fertile soil. Indeed, I’ve found that my flaws are irreplaceably powerful pedagogical tools in the hands of my Great Teacher. :) I have gained new understanding of St. Paul’s famous words:
He has answered me, ‘My grace is enough for you, for power is at full stretch in weakness.’ It is then, about my weaknesses that I am happiest to boast, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me; and that is why I am glad of weaknesses, insults, constraints, persecutions and distress for Christ’s sake. For it is when I am weak that I am strong. – 2 Cor 12: 9-10