Thankful: The Spirit of Hard Things

2013-10-26 10.02.14By Stephanie Gretchen Burgevin. Stephanie is a writer and retreat leader. She is an associate faculty member of Shalem and a graduate of theirLeading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats Program and leads spiritual and secular programs. Stephanie manages Shalem’s blog and is one of the social media coordinators for the Shalem Institute Facebook page.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an
unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

During this season of Thanksgiving, when we are more aware of being grateful it can still take some effort to see the gift in the struggles of life.

It is so easy to see God in a stunning sunset, an amazing vista, a baby, anything beautiful. What is more difficult is to see the Holy in the hard things–an argument, an illness, a difficulty.

I remember when a family member had a serious health issue. Through those dark months where we weren’t sure of not only mortality, but if he lived, what life would be like. That period gave us a new understanding of the depth, power, and resiliency of community. This teaching was pure gift and grace even through the pain of illness.

I was talking with a friend the other day about a hard relationship. She reminded me that this person I was speaking of was my teacher, someone who was helping me, through this friction to break open, and finally learn this lesson I’ve been trying to get my whole adult life. This tension, this struggle was a gift. Yes, let me remember that.

There is the gift of an argument when we can really listen and learn. When we hear the question, the challenge, in our heart.

Gifts are not always wrapped in bows and shiny paper. Sometimes they are hidden and frighteningly disguised.

Perhaps those are the bigger gifts. The ones that break us open and make us grow in ways we wouldn’t have taken on ourselves.

Maybe, when we have enough hindsight and done it enough times we can welcome these difficult guests as we would an old friend, in gratitude for their presence and the gifts they bring.

Thank you. Thank you for all of it.

November 11, 2013 by Shalem Institute 6 Comments
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Nancy Lemke
Nancy Lemke
10 years ago

Well, this couldn’t have come at a better time. I broke my ankle this week and am in a wheelchair for a while. This is bad enough, but I have had several other distressing health challenges this year, and this morning I am feeling quite sad and not wanting to answer the door of this guest house for a while. Your message reminds me that even though this particular physical misery isn’t going to go away over night, something valuable will creep in around the edges—a comfort—a wisdom—who knows. Wish it would come soon!!!

10 years ago
Reply to  Nancy Lemke

Hoping the blessing comes soon for you too, Nancy!

Jay Stailey
Jay Stailey
10 years ago

Love this poem and your thoughts on the gift in the hard things. Very timely for me and for our family. Thanks.

10 years ago
Reply to  Jay Stailey

Blessings, Jay, on the journey!

Linda Mastro
10 years ago

Jung said that an unexamined dream is like an unopened gift. After reading your insightful essay, I appreciate that a hard relationship is like an unexpected gift left on the doorway to the guest house in which my life is sheltered. I can shoose to discard the gift and to criticize its pain. I can also choose to open it with tender care to see what it has to offer. Many thanks for offering me this perspective just when I most needed it.

10 years ago
Reply to  Linda Mastro

The unexpected gift, what a lovely way to put it. Thank you, Linda.


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