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Sunday, January 27, 2008


A writer friend of mine, who is also a very spiritual person, says that whenever life seems to be getting in the way of your writing, consider the possibility that the distractions are there to teach you something you need to learn in order to do the writing. I’m trying to remember that after a week when I didn’t get to write anything, not even blog. Looking back at the events of the week, I can see ways that my friend is right.

For instance, last night we had dinner with a troubled young woman whom I would like to “fix,” though I know I can’t. I can’t undo her rough childhood, her exposure to drugs and alcohol at an early age, or the genes she inherited from her two addictive parents. I can’t prevent her from making foolish financial decisions or questionable relationship ones. But I can sit and listen, which I don’t think many people have ever done for her, and I can pray for her. The irony is that the chapter of the book I was working on before this distracting week was on dealing with other people. There is a section on accepting that we can’t change or control other people (although other sections of the chapter talk about how we can bring out the best in them through things like deep listening). This morning I realized I need a paragraph (at least) on praying for people when there is nothing else to do, and maybe one on how hard it is to listen to someone who is not making much sense. It would have been more efficient if I could have gotten these insights without the four-hour painful dinner and the following sleepless night, but my writing process is usually not that efficient. I have to actually learn things before I can write about them.

I’m hoping the class I am now teaching on “Race at the End of the Twentieth Century” will also enrich my writing work, rather than distract me from it, though this first week of the semester it took up much of my time. Likewise the Quaker work that is coming now that my meeting has approved building a new meetinghouse I’m sure will be educational. I’m less certain what I was supposed to learn from this week’s chipped tooth and the morning I spent at the dentist’s getting a temporary crown. It could be another lesson in patience, though I would have thought I get enough of those as a parent. I guess this week brings me back to my two favorite themes: trust and discernment. I have to trust that if I am on the right path, then everything will work together for some purpose I can’t always see. On the other hand, I have to keep discerning if I am on the right path and not saying yes to too many things that will distract me from the work I am really supposed to be doing.


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