A couple of afternoons a week, I bring my work to a local coffee shop. It gives me a chance to get out of the home office, attack a problem in a different setting, and get a gorgeous view of Lake Washington. Sometimes I put on headphones, drowning out the coffee-shop conversation, but sometimes, I’ll keep my ears open for quirky banter. Like today, when the barista and a customer shared a candid moment, and I jotted down the dialogue for use in a future short story.
It’s been a tough week for my writing. None of my ideas are coming together. I’m unfocused. My mind is busy with endless commercial-type thoughts, a fragment of a song, a bit of news I saw on Facebook, or an interaction I had with a friend, yet I push through, until my phone pings with an e-mail from an editor. Nope. She doesn’t like the changes I made and will scratch the article entirely.
Disappointed, I pack up my stuff and walk across the street to stare at the lake. I dial my husband at work. I tell him about my rejection. “I just don’t think I’m smart enough,” I whimper.
Mercifully, he laughs, “You’re smart enough. What you lack is practice, but you’re getting it. Get back at it,” he urges me.
I do, until it’s time to pick up the children, to help with homework, to make dinner. I push through the day until nearly bedtime, when it is time to pray the Examen, the prayer that focuses on highlighting God’s presence in our lives.
Poet Chris Anderson speaks of the Examen in this way: “The light of grace is always shining, it’s always pouring down, through it’s refracted and scattered and easy to miss, and so one way to pray is to look back on the moments of our day and recall when we saw the light breaking through.”
I review my day from the beginning, recalling how my husband and I both woke up early. Refreshed and rested, we had spent a few luxurious moments snuggling before we got up to meet the day. Since it wasn’t raining, a rarity for Seattle winters, I walked my boys to school, sharing conversations we would not normally have if we were looking at one another face-to-face. On the walk back, a hummingbird sat perfectly still on a bare tree branch in my path, only moving to turn her head when I approached, almost as if she wanted to flaunt how her luminous feathers appeared bright pink in the morning sunshine.
I see the richness of a day I had thought I had simply plugged through. Then I remember that conversation at the coffee shop. Touched by the honestly in a moment shared by two strangers, I had recorded it in my journal.
After sharing a personal story, the barista had asked in earnest, “If you learn something by failing, is it really a failure?”
The customer, sensing the sincerity of the question, had answered in a nearly paternal voice, “No, it’s a lesson.”
As I look back, I see these words were for me too, and I almost missed it. God was there the entire time, giving me quiet gifts of love and of beauty, and in the midst of my writing, God had sent words of encouragement: “Don’t think of it as a failure but as a lesson.”
Through remembering, the Examen, Chris Anderson says, is a “practice of joy.”
What a gift.