The Monk (Waiting, Part 1)

The following is an story from Sue Monk Kidd’s When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions:

Winter lumbered toward spring. … Wait, God seemed to whisper. But another voice rose up in me and around me, a sensible, collective voice insisting that waiting was a huge procrastination, an anachronism, a nice idea, maybe, but something misplaced in the fast-paced, demanding world of today.

Besides, I didn’t want to wait. Waiting seemed the rawest kind of agony. I wanted God to simply whisk away the masks I had spent most of my life fashioning, to hoist up from my repressed well the lost and neglected parts of myself, to solve my problems, heal my wounds, and alleviate the inexplicable sense of discontent and pain I was feeling. And mind you, I wanted all of this now, immediately, or at the very least soon.

It was at this point that I traveled to St. Meinrad Archabbey for a retreat. One day after morning prayers, I walked to the edge of the pond and sat on the grass. I listened to the wind sigh over the water and tried to be still, to simply be there and wait in the moment. But almost instantly my inner chaos rose up. The need to keep moving, to act, to solve everything overpowered me. I got to my feet.

As I returned to the guest quarters, I noticed a monk, ski cap pulled over his ears, sitting perfectly still beneath a tree. There was such reverence in his silhouette, such tranquil sturdiness, that I paused to watch. He was the picture of waiting.

Later I sought him out. “I saw you today sitting beneath the tree — just sitting there so still. How is it that you can wait so patiently in the moment? I can’t seem to get used to the idea of doing nothing.”

He broke into a wonderful grin. “Well, there’s the problem right there, young lady. You’ve bought into the cultural myth that when you’re waiting you’re doing nothing.”

Then he took his hands and placed them on my shoulders, peered straight into my eyes and said, “I hope you’ll hear what I’m about to tell you. I hope you’ll hear it all the way down to your toes. When you’re waiting, you’re not doing nothing. You’re doing the most important something there is. You’re allowing your soul to grow up. If you can’t be still and wait, you can’t become what God created you to be.”

Somehow I knew in my soul that his words were God’s words.

…[God] enters into the experience of those who wait.

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:25, NRSV)