The Visit

The Visit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Stories of Faith

The Visit

Slowly I walked down the aisle of the empty church. It had been a while since I’d stopped by for a visit. After many years of attending Catholic schools I’d slipped into the category of “lapsed.” Whatever spiritual juice I’d felt as a young boy growing up had evaporated years ago.

I looked around before slipping into a pew and kneeling down. It was pretty much the same as I remembered. I glanced up toward the altar and noticed the flickering candle that symbolized God was present, though invisible. “So,” I whispered, “maybe you’re here and maybe you aren’t. We’ll see.” Somewhere along the line I’d lost faith in whatever had sustained me in my earlier days.

I blessed myself, sat back on the hard wooden pew, gazed ahead and continued to address the God whose presence I doubted. “Anyway, if you’re really here, I need your help. I’ve tried everything I can think of. Nothing works. I feel totally helpless. I have no idea what else I can do. I’m thirty-three, healthy and fairly successful. You probably know all this. But I’m lonely. I have no one to share my life with, no special woman to love, no one to start a family with. My life feels empty, and I have nowhere else to go. I’ve taken eighteen seminars in as many months, learned how to access my feelings, release past hurts, complete old relationships, communicate my needs, understand and respond to what my partner wants. But still I’m alone. I can’t seem to find the right woman, the one who feels right deep inside. What am I missing?”

I sat still, listening. There was no reply to my question, no still small voice. Just the occasional car horn outside, or the sound of a bus passing by. Just silence. I shrugged. Continuing to sit quietly, I let the silence wash over me.

Day after day, I repeated this routine. I sat in the same pew, on the same hard bench, uttering the same plea to a flickering candle, in the same silence. Nothing changed. I was as lonely as I had been on day one. There were no mystical answers, no hidden messages.

I continued to live my life, managing to laugh and have some fun. I went on dates and enjoyed myself, whether I was dining out, dancing or at the movies. I also prayed. Day after day, I took an hour away from my regular activities, emptied myself and asked the same questions again and again.

One morning about six weeks later, I awoke and knew that something had shifted. I looked around. Something about the slant of light through the clouds, the fragrance of newly bloomed jasmine, the warm beach breeze, was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was, but I felt it. On my way home that afternoon, I stopped by the church as usual. Instead of my usual whining, I knelt and smiled at the candle.

Then I conveyed my thoughts to God. “I’m not quite sure what happened, but I feel different. Something has shifted inside. I don’t feel lonely anymore. Nothing’s changed ‘out there,’ but it all feels completely different. Would you happen to know anything about that?”

Suddenly, I was struck by the foolishness of the question, and I laughed out loud. My laughter echoed off the high ceilings and the stone walls, and then there was silence once more. But even the silence felt different. It no longer conveyed a feeling of emptiness and desolation. On the contrary, it radiated a wonderful serenity and tranquillity. I knew in that moment that I had come home to myself. I felt full, complete inside. I bowed my head, took a deep breath and exhaled.

“Thank you,” I whispered. “I have no idea what you did but I feel this happiness comes from you. I know that. I haven’t done anything new or different. So I know it’s not from me. Who else could it be from?”

I continued to sit in the silence, alone, content, happy. Then I spoke again to God. “I surrender to not knowing. I surrender to you being in charge. I surrender to my life being an expression of your will instead of my will. And I thank you for this feeling, this change or transformation or whatever it is.”

In the days and weeks that followed, my sense of fulfillment grew and expanded. I looked at everything from an entirely different perspective. Rather than looking for my “missing piece,” I simply enjoyed life. Gone was the angst, the stifling urgency to find the “perfect woman” for the rest of my life.

The shift in my viewpoint expanded into other areas as well. Instead of trudging through life, I glided. I embraced being single. It felt wonderful. As long as I maintained my connection with my inner self, I brimmed over with happiness, excitement, joy, fulfillment. There was nothing to fear. If it was God’s will that I should marry, then I would. If not, that was fine, too. I no longer held onto any preconceived notions of how my life should turn out. Every day was a new and wonderful adventure.

Four months later, I bumped into Kathy—again. We’d met years ago, but I’d forgotten all about it. She was sweet, bubbly, cute and lots of fun. We hit it off instantly. Her marriage was over and she was still mourning its passing, even though her brown eyes twinkled whenever we got together. There was something powerful that I couldn’t ignore about this bright Irish lass.

Her laughter was infectious, her heart as big as the endless sky. Every time we were together, time stood still. We finished each other’s sentences, giggled like school kids, brimmed over with excitement and delight. I felt protective of her. She was everything I’d ever dreamed of, everything that I’d stopped looking for months ago.

Once again, I surrendered to something so much more powerful than myself. We were in love.

One afternoon on my way back from the beach, I made a quick visit to the church. It was still just as silent, and the wooden bench was as hard as ever. The candle still flickered on the empty altar. Full of joy and mirth, I raised my eyes.

“Thanks,” I whispered. “Again. For bringing us together. For helping me let go of all the baggage I was carrying, all the stuff that prevented me from seeing what was already there inside. Thanks for showing yourself to me in her smile, in myself, in the summer breezes, the cool evening sky, the curling waves, the seagulls, the sun and the rain. I couldn’t have done it without you. But you always knew that, didn’t you? I was the one who had to learn. Thanks for not giving up on me like I had on you. Thanks for hanging in there with me. I promise I’ll never forget.”

~C. J. Herrmann

Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul

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