Have you ever read a story that never leaves you? For me, it’s the monk story.
More than 10 years ago, I sat in a waiting room where, rather than waste time, I flipped through the pages of a magazine until an article captured my attention.*
The author had long dreamed of being a monk, but because a 9-5 paying job seemed more practical, he chose that route instead. Years passed and although he was successful, he never forgot his heart’s desire.
One day the author saw a newspaper article about a local monastery. For men who wanted to consider entering monastic life, the monastery was holding a four-week retreat. Qualified applicants would live at the monastery and participate in its activities. At the program’s conclusion, participants could decide whether or not they wanted to enter the monastic order.
The author’s application was accepted and after checking in on the first day, he was shown to his quarters. His stark, doorless room contained a single bed, dresser, desk and chair.
After unpacking, he and the other would-be monks attended an orientation where they were given their itinerary for the next month.
The author was stunned to learn that morning prayers and vespers began at 3:30 a.m.—attendance mandatory. After an early breakfast, assigned chores were performed in silence until lunch. Afternoons were spent in silent study, and once evening vespers ended, the men returned to their rooms where they remained silent.
Assigned to wash the monastery’s floors, the author thought his chore not so bad until he learned that he would scrub the floors on his hands and knees—in silence. The work was painful, exhausting. Hours of silence magnified the harshness. This was not what the author imagined when he dreamed of monastic life.
After lunch on the fourth day, the author returned to his room and began packing. When the head monk walked past the open doorway, he stopped and asked the author why he was leaving.
The author explained that life in the monastery was nothing like he’d imagined. The hours were long and the work was difficult. And then there was the silence. The painful, lonely silence. It was all too much, too difficult for the author to bear. He couldn’t see himself serving God this way for the next 15 or 20 years.
To the author’s surprise, the head monk didn’t try to persuade him to stay, but rather agreed with everything he’d said. Life at the monastery was unbearably difficult. Why, during his many years there, life had never once gotten easier for him. If anything, it sometimes became harder.
Shocked, the author asked the head monk how he was able to stay.
“As much as I love God and want to serve Him, if I viewed my life as though I had twenty or thirty years left here at the monastery, I couldn’t handle it. I’d pack my bags and leave.
“But God uses the difficulty, the austerity, the silence to teach me perspective. I’ve learned to look at my life one day at a time. When I do that, I can get through the hardships that each day brings. There are some days so difficult that I need to look at my life in one hour - or even one minute - increments or I’d be overwhelmed and give up.
“God has taught me to view my life in manageable amounts. That’s how I get through the unbearable. That’s how I stay. That’s how I’m able to serve the Lord.”
After letting the monk’s words sink in for several minutes, the author removed his clothing from his suitcase.
“What are you doing?” the monk asked.
“I know I can make it till dinner.”
Life is difficult. It can be downright brutal. But I know I can make it through today. What about you? How do you get through the toughest of days? Let me hear from you!
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
* I regret that I cannot recall the name of the author or the magazine so that I can give both their due credit and my appreciation. If anyone should recognize this story, please contact me. It is not my wish to take credit for this story.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011, 2013