everal years ago now, my car was broken down on the side of the road, and I sat alone inside for several hours, freezing my butt off while AAA took their sweet time in finding a company to tow me out of the mess that I was in. This provided me with an ample enough amount of silence and solitude to think on, and bemoan my circumstances.
The circumstances I speak of *included* the one I was then literally in, but extended way beyond it, making my being stuck on the side of the road more of a metaphor for how I was feeling about life at the time. I felt stuck. Despite my best efforts, things just weren’t moving the way I had wanted them to, and I seemed forever…well, stuck. Money was tight, nerves were always frayed, and even the brightest mornings seemed just a little bit dark in those days. It was a very unusual time of life for me, as I’m not at all given to such emotions or states, but they were induced by some unusual and unforeseen circumstances, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do about it.
My solitary, side of the road pity party, though, was interrupted and then invaded by an older gentleman, whose home I happened to be near enough to that he was able to spot my car from his garage. He approached, greeted me, handed me a cup of coffee in a little disposable cup, and did his best to engage me in some awkward small talk before the cold got to be too much for him, at which point he retreated back into his home. You know, it was the simplest and most human of gestures, but something about the actions of that man, whose name I do not know, broke me open inside. The coffee was quite terrible, but I drank every last drop. He reminded me of the love of God in a moment when I had been working very hard to remind myself of everything but. He had no idea, but that little action of his changed something in my heart that was of major significance, and initiated a pretty major shift in my life.
It is often only in [the difficult times], though, that we actually learn the incredible value of small things. In truth, it’s there we realize that there are no small things, just big things in disguise.
I’ve received a lot of things over the years, but few stick out quite like that bad cup of coffee and few awkward minutes of conversation. I suppose I had been reduced to a point where any little thing would have appeared as much more than it was, but, while I could take the position that it was all just a kind of illusion brought on by my undesired and undesirable circumstances, I’ve come to see that it was, in fact, much, much more than that.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote that, “…it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” It is, I think, sometimes our being used to swimming in oceans of abundance that keeps us blind to the occasional little rain shower that falls to the earth. Why, after all, would we notice such a thing when we have more than we know what to do with? In the hot, dry, wilderness, however, that little rain shower may as well be a deluge, or God himself.
I don’t in any way desire times of lack, nor do I wish them on anyone. It is often only in them, though, that we actually learn the incredible value of small things. In truth, it’s there we realize that there are no small things, just big things in disguise. It took that darker season of life for my eyes to be able to perceive the love of God in a bad cup of coffee served with compassion, and I’m grateful that I was in that place, in that moment, to be able to learn what I learned.
I guess my point is that the whole world is absolutely alive with things to be grateful for. I know it’s a time when telling people that there are gifts hidden within griefs can be seen as gaslighting — and that is certainly not my intention — but it really is true.
In the normal course of life such things are often lost on us, simply because we are so saturated with good stuff that we fail to see how super-saturated normal things are with divine life and energy. Such times open our eyes to see reality, and hopefully such times allow us to carry what we caught sight of into alternate realities, where things are not as difficult as they once were. Such sight is a gift, and is, perhaps, what Jesus meant when he said that the Kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit. Maybe it is only those who have experienced a sort of impoverishment, in one realm or another, who can see the Kingdom of God in things like a cup of cold water or a widow’s mite? I’m sure it’s what Von Balthasar meant by, “… the poor are satisfied with little gifts.”
For your sake, I hope and pray you aren’t in such a state, but if you are, may you have eyes to see the depth that lies on the surface; the beauty within the ashes; the beyond that is always in our midst, even when that “midst” does not immediately strike us as a desirable location. And if you aren’t, may you have the eyes that only the poor in spirit have, and see the Kingdom, even in your abundance. Sometimes that’s actually a more difficult place to see it in, but I hope and pray today that you can, in fact, see it.