Roger, a friend of mine, told me how he and his partner volunteer at an overflow homeless shelter during the winter months. This requires the volunteers to take a four-hour shift over night while the guests are sleeping. Roger related how staying up this one night a month can sometimes throw off his schedule for days while his body tries to catch up on lost sleep. And because of this, he would find himself getting anxious in the run up to his appointed night. He also would find himself, at times, wondering if it is all worth it and should he just quit. It isn’t as if the task itself is difficult. According to my friend, on most nights the only noise is the sound of snoring or the pater of feet shuffling to and from the bathroom. There may be an occasional argument, but that is the exception. For the most part, the nights are quiet. And it was on one of these quiet nights that Roger says he found the grace of the moment. Instead of feeling stressed, Roger decided to treat his shift as a vigil on this particular night. He decided to use this time as a time to pray; as a time to reflect on all of the homeless souls under his watch and to envision how each of them is a child of God; to search his own heart in order to find how he has been blessed this night, this day and throughout the week. Instead of treating this as an obligation to suffer through, Roger decided to treat it as a time of grace.
This story struck a chord with me. I find that when I am faced with a task I don’t particularly want to do, I get downright crabby about it and even a bit resentful. In my mind I start to pick apart all that is “wrong” with the situation: how it may be poorly organized; how it is an unnecessary imposition; how the person “forcing me” to do this begins to be seen as an irritant or sometimes worse, as an opponent. I guess you could say these moments don’t bring out the best in me.
But now, Roger’s story has provided me a new way to view these times when I face a task I don’t want to do or when I’m forced to deal with someone I don’t like. What would happen if I simply decided to seek the moment of grace in these situations?
The Chinese Taoists teach us about Yin and Yang; that there is a light and a dark side to everything in the universe and that everything contains within itself the seed of its opposite. So, in a stressful situation there is a seed of serenity. In an unpleasant encounter with someone is the seed of a relationship. In the unwanted task is the seed of freedom.
Maybe another way to say this is that in every encounter, there is a seed of God and we just have to look more deeply to find it. We have to find its moment of grace.
Michael Soika has been a community activist for more than 30 years working on issues of social and economic justice. His work for justice is anchored by his spiritual formation first as a Catholic and now as a Quaker.