I went to a church workshop early Saturday morning. As I walked into the meeting hall, the senior pastor greeted me and offered his thanks for an email that I had sent him a few days before “All Saints Sunday.” (For those who are unfamiliar with this designation, the church recognizes and remembers the “saints” or persons who have died in the year preceding November 1st on the Sunday of or following November 1st.) I had written to the pastor about a high school teacher of mine who died this summer. She shepherded me through the tumultuous teenage years as a role model of multi-talents who was also a peacemaker, strong female, and gracious human being. The friendship endured beyond high school and morphed into a relationship of mutual admiration.
My pastor said the email would be kept in his “roses file” – a file for all those special letters and messages he wants to remember. He told me that he used to keep a “rocks file” as well. This file contained hate mail and other reminders of his failings or negative perceptions by others. A few years ago, he read some of the “rocks” and realized he didn’t need to keep them anymore. He threw the file away. He said, “I realized we have a limited amount of time to shine our light. And I don’t need to spend my time shining a light on those things.” I told him that I agreed. I also thought it took a certain maturity – getting older! — to come to that realization.
As I took my seat to listen to our presenter, I continued to think about the rocks and roses. I decided that it wasn’t just aging or an appreciation of the brevity of life that plays a role in helping us make the decision to throw away the rocks. We also have to let go of self-absorption – the perception that me/myself/I is the center of everything. I thought about my teenagers at home and about being a teenager myself. Every rock that is thrown at a teen, every negative assessment, is kept. Whether it pertains to appearance, social standing, academic performance or attractiveness to the object of the teen’s affection, the rocks are held close to his or her heart. The roses, by contrast, dangle loosely in the teen’s hand where they drop to the ground from time to time.
The process of letting go of the rocks and holding the roses more tightly is a slow one for many of us. It may begin with a special teacher, parent, leader, or friend who breaks open our awareness of the greater community or world where we are individuals who have the power to make a difference but only by letting go of center stage. In my own life, I think that finding a life partner played a role. When you truly love someone and that love is returned, you learn to compromise and let go of selfish pursuits for the good of the other or for the good of the two. Children have a huge effect on self-centeredness. Their needs almost always come first. I believe that being a parent through open adoption has also affected my “standing” in the grand scheme of things. There are other parents, grandparents, and siblings whose lives are affected by where I shine my light.
Finally, there is the physical aging process. At some point, I woke up, saw myself in the mirror and realized that physical beauty was no longer my calling card – if it ever had been. If I were going to reach my goals, it would be for other reasons than “my looks open doors.” (Fortunately, my husband has not yet received the memo. He seems well supplied in rose-colored glasses when it comes to me.)
This preoccupation with weighing the rocks as well as the roses may be biologically programmed into us. The rocks as well as the roses tell us where our strengths lie and what may need to be improved. Still, I find myself as a parent wishing my children had the “maturity” to know RIGHT NOW that the rocks are painful distractions that keep them from “smelling the roses.”
One of the things I remember most clearly about my teacher who died this summer is the way she planted roses with the people who were drawn to her. I remember lying on a pier at night looking at the stars or sitting in front of a roaring fireplace with her sharing my dreams and aspirations for the future. Anything and everything seemed possible. Whatever personal rocks she held were hidden from me. As time turned me into an adult, she shared some of the rocks she could not let go. I found myself reminding her of the roses she had planted. My dad writes about caring for the generations. It occurs to me that maybe this is part of what that care looks like. We receive love when we are young that we might give love when we are older. Declaring to my teenagers that the rocks don’t matter isn’t nearly as important as planting and nurturing the roses that they will, in turn, someday share with others.