"Patience is everything."
In When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life’s Sacred Questions, bestselling author Sue Monk Kidd shares her at-once vulnerable and inspiring autobiographical account. The fascinating outcome of her reflections is a discipline she terms “active waiting”. Within, we gain a profound yet refreshing counterpoint to the crazy-busy “fast food” and “jiffy market” tendencies by which North Americans typically comport their lives.
The Big Idea
Transformation through Waiting
"There is nothing instant or automatic in spiritual development."
Tracing the actual journey of a larva from chrysalis to butterfly across her winter of discontent, the author comes to realize that upheaval need not only denote suffering. If we would just listen, we might hear the proverbial “dark night of the soul” as an opportunity for creativity and release from old ways-of-being.
Indeed, waiting doesn’t equate to doing nothing. We ironically achieve our greatest progress standing still. It’s just that many wish to avoid necessary pain in favor of instant gratification, as evidenced by The Threefold Cycle of Waiting:
- Separation. The winds of crisis often swirl more turbulently as we resist the soul’s voice. Rather, if we could view mid-life as the chance to cross a new threshold, we could rise above stagnation into what Erik Erikson calls “generativity”.
- Transformation. Letting go isn’t one step but many. When we tightly grip the present, we can’t enter the larger selfhood pressing forth. Clinging shrinks possibility. Allowing a period of “fertile emptiness” promotes growth.
- Emergence. If you think about it, everything incubates in darkness. “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked”, wrote poet Gibran. As Monk Kidd puts it: “When the heart weeps for what it has lost, the spirit laughs for what it has found.”
From False Self to True Self
"The shell must be cracked apart if what is in it is to come out, for if you want the kernel, you must break the shell."
We may like to think we’re individuals living out our unique truth, but more frequently we’re defined by collective scripts inherited from society, family, jobs, friends and traditions. If we’re to evolve, we must differentiate ourselves from the roles we play.
In Sue’s case, those roles included: Little Girl with a Curl (be perfect and keep every hair in place); Pleaser (tell me who you want me to be and I’ll be it); and Tinsel Star (constantly seeking accolades). Add into the mix classic fairy tale figures like Rapunzel (perceived helplessness), Little Red Hen (martyr), and Chicken Little (fear of life), and you have a rich lexicon from which to draw for your examination.
Every false self contains a wound yearning to be healed. Only by confronting and embracing our masks can we liberate the True Self. Two great next-steps are:
- Name your false selves.
- Ask yourself: If all those roles were stripped away, who would you be then?
Unfurling New Wings
"If I have inside me the stuff to make cocoons, maybe the stuff of butterflies is there too."
One unexpected day, eyes raised to the pot of African violets on her desktop, the author witnessed a startling black wing etched with blue and orange dots protruding above the rim. The chrysalis had opened!
When the time is right, the cocooned soul begins to emerge. New life arrives slowly and awkwardly, not unusually on wobbly wings. What happens when the Pleaser stops pleasing or the Martyr ceases to sacrifice on the altar of duty? What will folks do when Chicken Little no longer hides but takes up their courage to meet life head-on?
As such, we would do well to answer for ourselves these pivotal questions:
- How will you respond when others are afraid of your wings and try to talk you back into the old larval state?
- How will you take care of yourself if people ignore or attack your wings?
- Likewise, how can you reinforce those who applaud and bless your newness?
Either way, know that transformation in one family member inevitably transforms the unit in some way. Integration and adjustment are not an overnight process, however.
The hope in it all is this: There’s a self within each one of us aching to be born. We’ll survive as human beings to the degree that we stop being individuals struggling alone with our pain and instead become a community sharing our suffering.
Quoting the writings of Swiss psychiatrist C.G. Jung in Stages of Life: “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning – for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie”.
As Sue Monk Kidd implores, let us trust our waiting hearts enough to risk entering them. And, when they unfurl, love your wings!!