“Here it is,” said Irene, guiding his fingers to where she was holding the thin, shimmering strand.
“I feel nothing!” he exclaimed.
Irene looked at him, sad and solemn. “And so you still do not believe me. But I do feel it. And aren’t you glad? I found you in that cave, and brought you out, and I couldn’t have done it without the thread.”
Sometime later, Irene led Curdie to see her great-great grandmother. But Curdie could neither see nor hear her. Sure that Irene was mocking, he stormed off home. “I’m obliged to you for getting me out of that hole, Princess. But I wish you hadn’t made a fool of me afterwards!”
“What does it all mean, Grandmother?” sobbed Irene.
“It means, my love, that Curdie is not yet able to see some things…in the meantime, you must be content to be misunderstood for awhile. We are all of us very anxious to be understood. But there is one thing much more necessary: to understand other people.”
(Retold from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald)
Each time I heard the above lines spoken onstage, it was well-nigh impossible not to think of that famous prayer:
“O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek To be consoled as to console; To be understood as to understand; To be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” (from the so-called Prayer of St. Francis)
True confession: it has been one of my lifelong fears, being misunderstood. I agonize more over one miss-spoken word that the hearer likely doesn’t even remember, than I do over any number of harsh words spoken with clear meaning.
It’s all too easy to be misunderstood today–so much of our communication is not only not face-to-face, it’s not even voice-to-voice. We speak in tweets and texts and status updates, ambiguous and brief and out of context. Following the thread of a conversation spoken with one’s thumbs at stolen moments (traffic lights, commercials, elevators) can be misleading:
‘Is he angry or kidding? Is she really upset, or just venting?’
To seek to understand is to choose patience and silence. It is to ask more questions and to listen more intently. We believe, and God has rewarded faith with glimpses of glory and with answered prayers. But we have family member, friends, co-workers, neighbors, who do not or cannot believe…not yet.
We must keep our own finger on the thread of faith, and follow the Spirit’s lead.
Who knows how many others may be walking in our wake, curious or needy? How many may be in the dark now, but willing to lean toward the light we say we see?
As my pastor said in a sermon recently, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to save, and that perhaps at the eleventh hour. I should not despair or dismiss out of hand any of the unbelievers in my life. God alone knows the timetables of each heart.
One thing I should seek to understand, daily: I need to follow faithfully the Lord’s lead-string. I can’t ever trust to my own navigation. So how can I condemn the one who falters or falls through trying to make his way through the maze without a clue?
Compassion and humility demand that I strengthen my hold on the thread with one hand…and reach out the other to help my friend.