You don’t love someone for their looks, or their clothes, or their fancy car, but because they sing a song only you can hear. – Helen Keller, The Story of My Life
I think Helen Keller was onto something with this quote. But I’d modify it to say that when you’re with the right person, your lives together create a song that’s so beautiful that you’re happy to sing it together for life… through verses of joy, pain, triumphs, sorrows, etc. A song that changes over time, rebalancing and shifting as your individual “voices” change, layering in new ideas and skills. But hopefully with joy threading throughout. Maybe it’s a little discordant at times or you hit the wrong note, but you adjust to get back into a harmony that allows your individual voices to create a more beautiful whole.
I want to compose a life that glorifies the Lord with its beauty, even in pain or trouble. A life that sings a song that other people can identify with and that points them to Christ.
And maybe it’ll be a duet. I don’t have a long list when it comes to love. There’s only one item on it, really, so I’m not sure it even qualifies as a list. Here it is: Our life together is a more beautiful song than the one I’m composing on my own. We are better at life as a team than I would be alone. Better at loving life and others, pursuing the purposes that God has for us, etc. More joyful. More passionate. Steadier.
Why am I telling you this? It’s kind of awkwardly personal, right? (Well I’d argue that this should really be the only thing on any of our lists so it’s not that personal, but let’s ignore that for now.) The reason is this…
This week’s FSSP was about patience. Not a virtue I’m known for. But one that I’ve been noticing and appreciating in others lately for an unexpected reason. Let’s go back to my duet analogy so I can attempt to explain why.
As I grow into myself and experience new things that teach me about my own song–my range, my voice, my strengths, etc.–I’ve started to notice people whose songs complement my own.
There are basic things, like genre. If I’m singing country over here and you’re singing techno… that’s not going to happen. For example, I want to passionately pursue God’s purpose for my life. If you don’t, we’re not singing in the same genre. That’s a pretty obvious difference.
But then there are the smaller, more nuanced things. Like patience. The writer Paulo Coelho (who writes beautiful, amazing things) wrote a book called The Witch of Portobello. At one point the characters are discussing patience and this is what they say:
“Why is patience so important?”
“Because it makes us pay attention.”
If you know me, you may have noticed that patience is not my default setting. I tend to rush through life. Fast walker, fast talker, fast decision-maker.
But every once in a while when I’m with someone everything naturally moves a little slower. I notice things around me and minute details of the people I’m with. I’m more relaxed. I’m quieter and more content without having a plan. I’m more willing to accept help. I feel less like I need to control everything. And as a result, I’m more generous with my affection and my time. I more thoroughly enjoy my companions and what we’re doing.
I describe people who have this effect on me as the ones that “slow me down.” And every time it happens, I’m a little in awe of it. And I internally close my eyes and enjoy the sound that our lives are making together in that moment… because my own voice doesn’t have the range to hit this particular note. And it’s a beautiful one.
This week as I’ve been contemplating patience, I’ve been thinking about that note.
If I applied consistent and considerable effort, I can probably produce something acceptably close to that. But it would be a lot of work. Not that I shouldn’t work at being patient with others. That seems like a basic part of my range that I should always be striving to improve.
But maybe hitting that awesome, soaring note of patience isn’t something I should be trying to do alone. As in so many things, when we try to go it alone maybe the input/output ratio is off. Instead, maybe it’s supposed to be something that comes from my relationships with people who “slow me down.” Alone I might have to put in 10 times as much work to achieve a moment of real patience when just being with the right people and nurturing the right relationships might achieve the same result. By nurturing those relationships, by connecting with people whose spiritual skill set complements my own… we’re able to hit better notes together. Including, on occasion, patience.