Is the hard work worth it?

8355036023_f4a5a9eaa7_oOur seven-year-old daughter has been learning to play the cello for the past two years. We are fortunate to have a Suzuki cello teacher at our college who makes learning music fun. But Ella still has to practice every day, even when she doesn’t want to. Being good at something like music takes persistent, hard work. I’m glad our daughter is learning this invaluable lesson early in her life.

The temptation to give up when things get difficult or when you fail to succeed at your goals follows you throughout life. I felt this temptation recently. After working hard at my writing all summer, it was defeating to get a number of rejection notices from magazines and journals that I felt sure would accept my work. But the other day I was reminded that I write for more reasons than the hope of publication. I reshaped my last blog post about the march in Chicago into a talk for our college’s Resident Assistants about how we can and should foster communities of respect and prophetic welcome. I also know that the work I have put into my writing over the past few years has not only made me a better writer, but a better thinker and communicator. Oftentimes what I begin here on my blog finds its way into a sermon or a program or a conversation with a student I am counseling. Is all this writing work hard? Yes. But is the hard work worth it? Most definitely. I just need to remember this when the next rejection notice hits my inbox.

 

[Feature Image: Jeff Sass]

 

The Practice of Doing Nothing: Sitting with my Suffering (Part 2)

Fear 1On a bright summer morning, I dropped my 5-year-old daughter off at day camp placing her in the care of counselors who all appeared to be in high school. Looking at Ella’s counselors I remembered myself at their age, and the parents who entrusted their children to me. I didn’t take the same precautions with those children as I do now, with my own. I suspected the same was true of these teenagers. But I was too busy with Ella’s transfer–lunchbox (check), bathing suit and towel (check), water bottle (check), sunblock and bugspray (check)—to give my worry much attention. The camp counselors were busy too, loading my daughter up in a 15-passenger van. They were taking the kids on a trip to the lake.

Driving away from the drop-off, the image of my tiny, tow-headed daughter, climbing into the camp van stayed with me. Arriving at my office, unlocking the door, arranging my desk to tackle my long list of to-do’s, my mind kept returning to my daughter in the van.

Then, a premonition overcame me; a feeling, a knowing. My mind pictured the tragedy—a van overturned with my daughter’s body inside it.

The urge to go and get her—to chase down that van, find my daughter, pull her into my arms and keep her with me for the rest of the day—swelled. Fear flooded my nervous system and I broke into a sweat.

Am I crazy? Or is this a sign? Will I regret this forever if I don’t go and get her? How could this possibly be true? I was suffering terribly and almost succumbed. My car keys were in my hand when I remembered my practice.

So I took my suffering to the mat and sat with it. This was a tough one because the fear was like violence within me. It was beating me up inside, clubbing my heart, contracting my lungs, scorching me with its heat from the inside out. It was almost unbearable. But I sat with it and breathed. I leaned into my suffering instead of running away from it, or running immediately to resolve it. And, like my anger previously, I eventually felt the urgency of my fear dissipate. The oxygen calmed my nerves and restored my reason. I was still afraid, but not overwhelmed. And in this new state I realized that I had to let Ella go…and keep letting her go…because her life and mine could not be ruled by fear.

Our suffering has much to teach us, and yet we do everything possible to avoid it or get rid of it. I am becoming much more aware of my suffering now and my power to sit with it. This, in turn, has led me to become more aware of the suffering of others. The faces of humanity rise in my mind as I sit on my mat. I hold each in my heart, just as I hold my own fragile self. Thich Nhat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, believes that the world would be a more peaceful and compassionate place if we all practiced meditation. As I stop to imagine this—a world that could learn from its own suffering and not be ruled by fear—I give thanks for the profound gifts of a simple practice.