A Quiet Heart

“I don’t know Who--or what--put the question, I don’t know when it was put.  I don’t even remember answering.  But at some moment I did answer.  Yes to Someone--or Something--and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender, had a goal.

From that moment I have known what it means “not to look back,” and “to take no thought for the morrow.”    Dag Hammarskjold, Whitsunday, 1961 

“Hurry, Scurry Offense! Butternut Defense!” I have no idea what it means or where it started.  I think it is one of those inane phrases I chattered that kept my mind quiet and let my body play basketball from instinct.  But the phrase has come back often in my life as a reminder of something all too real that I tried to ignore.  I often lived a “hurry,scurry offense,” pushing myself too hard with projects and tasks overwhelming me. It kept me from being truly present to others and sometimes oblivious to the needs and wishes of family, friends and colleagues. I lived with too much on my plate, feeling frazzled, rushed and ruled by excessive demands. 

It took some very dramatic events to get my attention.  In my early 40’s we owned a small cabin in the remote mountains of West Virginia, about four hours’ drive from our home near Washington, DC.  We did have some marvelously relaxing times at that tiny retreat.  One weekend, my wife and I left behind the demands of our home and went to the cabin to work, to make numerous repairs that were necessary.  By 6:30 on Saturday morning I was already trying to get ahead of the day.  Why I was whittling a long stick, I can’t tell you, but I almost cut off the end of my left index finger.  Not a good start!  With my finger wrapped tightly in ice and a towel, Judith drove me to the nearest hospital in Elkins, WVA, 45 miles on mountain roads, more than an hour by car.

As I sat in the ER watching the surgeon sew my finger together, I said, “So, how long have you lived here?”

“Oh, I don’t live here,” he replied, “I live in Washington.”

My mouth gaped and I said, “What? You live in Washington, DC?”

“Oh, no, I live in the state of Washington,” he said rather matter of factly.   “I am considered one of the best surgeons in the northwestern part of our country.  But I have a heart problem.  Actually, I have two heart problems.  One is that my physical heart is in bad shape. My second heart problem is that I am a workaholic who pushes himself endlessly to satisfy something in my soul, I don’t really know what.  The two have combined to the point that my doctor has told me that if I want to live much longer I must slow down and make serious changes.  So, I did.  I fly here to this area 2000 miles from my home.  I work 7-10 days a month and then go back home and spend time with my wife and friends and do a little consulting.  I am fortunate that I can do that when I know others might not be able to. It has saved my life, my heart, in both ways.”

I was speechless.  Was I dreaming or living in a parable?  I was suddenly confronted by Clarence, the guardian angel on the bridge in It’s A Wonderful Life.  This is too real to face. This man is mirroring me and describing a radical solution.  This is frightening. It is awesome.  It is a God moment.

I wish I could say that I was immediately lifted into a transformed being, but instead I left the ER and quickly added to the comedy of errors.  I reminded Judith that we needed a new storm door but that, in the hurry scurry, I had not taken the measurements.  I was sure I could judge the size needed.  We bought a storm door and drove the 45 miles back to the cabin.  You guessed it.  Wrong size.  Another 90 mile trip to return the door and get the right one which I was still installing at 0 dark thirty. “Haste makes waste,” say our Amish friends.

I did make some changes.  I’m certainly clear that a “hurry, scurry offense” did not disappear from my life. Not immediately anyway, but I can tell you that slowly, surely, I became more present, patient and quiet inside as I set better boundaries on my schedule and my person. That amazing encounter in the ER was a watershed that shifted my life’s direction. My heart began to quiet in ways that I had never known.

Oh, yes, many other disturbing and dramatic experiences have awakened and then quieted my restless heart.   If you ask me I might even tell you about breaking both of my arms at the same time and how that saved our marriage. 

Do not be anxious about tomorrow.

Let the day’s own trouble be

sufficient for the day. Matthew 6:34 RSV


“Give me a pure heart--that I may see Thee,

A humble heart--that I may hear Thee,

A heart of love--that I may serve Thee,

A heart of faith--that I may abide in Thee.”

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            Dag Hammarskjold, 1954