Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).
My family took a break from the kitchen on Friday evening for dinner at Mellow Mushroom. Amid the constant talking of a couple hundred people dining beneath big screen TVs, I could not hear myself think much less hear what anyone said. Quiet and hungry, we ate and read lips whenever addressed by the waitress or passing friends.
Extroverts recharged in the gregarious crowd, but as an introvert, I savored the quiet ride home more than the delicious mushroom soup and Brutus Salad. That silence and simple, one-on-one conversation with my wife, Wanda, restored my soul.
Nevertheless, isolation tempts an introvert, especially when inevitable conflicts and ego insults arise from encounters at work, marketplace, church, or even Mellow Mushroom. I remember reading in high school Chekhov’s short story, “The Bet,” about a man who took a dare to live for fifteen years with a piano, books, and other comforts but no human contact. My envy for him surprised me then, but after the betrayals, disappointments, and liabilities of adult life in the human family, it makes sense sometimes.
“No man is an island,” John Donne famously wrote. In their classic song, “I Am a Rock,” Simon and Garfunkel sang the proud anthem of the recluse with “my books and my poetry to protect me,” only to reach the coldly consoling conclusion, “And a rock feels no pain; and an island never cries.”
Such is an introvert’s temptation: Avoid the suffering of life by escaping others. Go on a silent, spiritual retreat and never come home. Recharge your batteries in solitude and never use them.
Raised a nice boy, I came to believe that if I find myself in conflict with someone, there must be something wrong with me. But that is not always true. Among the infinite variety of people, some will dislike, distrust, or outright despise me whether I hurt them or not.
If I want to give and receive love, I must enter that fray and take the elbows along with the hugs. I must learn to stand up for myself, and I must learn to forgive those who neither listen nor heed me. If I do, I will make a most wonderful and ironic discovery: Along with the perfumed sanctuary and thin mountaintop air, that fray is sacred space. God is there.
For God was Forgiveness before we ever had a chance to sin. Forgiveness continues to work quietly amid our wars small and great, cold and hot. Human eyes only recognize Forgiveness emerging from conflict. We only really know Forgiveness when we practice it in the fray.
Solitude may prepare me for that. But God who meets me there also calls me out into the noisy, rough-and-tumble world of people, sending gifts with me and promising I will find some for me there too. Peace need not, indeed cannot, be lonely. Let the pain and tears in the fray be my offering there where I worship my long-suffering, ever-forgiving Lord.
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