A couple of years ago Lourene and I visited The Serra Retreat Center in Malibu, California. This is such a peaceful place with a breathtaking view of the ocean. Several benches with an ocean view make a great place for prayer and reflection. They also have a prayer labyrinth with an instruction sheet of suggested guidelines for how to use the labyrinth for a prayer walk (by the way, I found this labyrinth to be a helpful tool in focusing on God). One of the instructions for having a meaningful prayer walk described how to handle the situation should you encounter someone else while you are walking the labyrinth or if you should be disturbed by children.
“If someone upsets you, that person is your teacher.”
Don’t you wonder what kind of events led to the publication of this particular suggestion? Confession: I can imagine my going to a spiritual retreat center with great expectations about how I am going to encounter God and have a mountaintop spiritual experience only to leave angry. The day I walked the labyrinth I was the only one there, but I can imagine what it would be like if some loud people, especially children, had been there. I don’t think I’m the only one who can imagine getting ticked off by someone in that situation; thus, the instruction sheet.
Since my visit to Serra, I have tried to write these instructions on my heart. The other day Lourene and I were meeting some friends for dinner at The Olive Garden. As I prepared to park the car I realized that I was about to pull into the parking place closest to the Olive Garden’s entrance – that kind of thing rarely happens. And just as I am cheering our convenient parking place and turning the steering wheel, a woman jumps in front of my car and begins waving her arms above her head.
Thinking she needed help or that there was some emergency I rolled down my window and asked her if she was ok. Yes, she was fine, thank you; she just wanted me to know that she was saving that parking place for her family who was coming in a few minutes to join her for dinner.
Another confession: my first thought was, “Woman, you are an incredibly selfish pig!” But I quickly recovered, before I had spoken a word, and said aloud to my wife, “She is my teacher.” Clearly, I have much left to learn.
I would love to get to the point where I don’t even think about people being pigs. I would love for “She is my teacher” to be my very first thought. I have this feeling that until I get to that point, and perhaps long after, I will have plenty of opportunities to be taught. I can only hope I will have ears to hear.