The opportunity to go on retreat is one of the few perks of being a chaplain, and so this last week I gathered with a whole bunch of Protestant Chaplains (Army, Navy and Air Force) to reassess my life and faith. We were challenged to consider the past, the present and the future… and out of that I came to a startling conclusion, I think that I am going OK. One of the books that I am currently reading is Helen Keller’s auto biography and as I looked at my life it became obvious that some people have a lot more to overcome, things that I take for granted. Helen was born in the 1880’s and although she was born with sight and hearing, as the result of illness at a very young age was plunged into a world of silence and darkness, feeling isolated and alone. It was not till she was about 7 years old that Annie Sullivan, her teacher, broke into her life and taught her how to communicate. The result was revolutionary, she went on to get a university education, write books, work for women’s rights and pioneer support for people with disabilities. In short, she became one of the most inspiring people of the 20th century!
What can we learn from her life? Probably lots of things but here are three that impacted me:
1. Focus on the possibilities not the problems! Helen Keller had plenty of problems but she did not let these stop her from achieving her goals even when the majority of people around told her they were impossible. Helen herself put it like this “While they were saying among themselves it cannot be done, it was done.”
2. Be confident in who you are! Helen was one of those people who believed that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. In fact she said “self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world”. The fact is, we choose how we want to be treated, and if we choose to feel like the victim, others will treat us accordingly.
3. Use experiences to build character! If you are focussing on the possibilities, tackling life with confidence, that doesn’t mean that you will not have failures and frustrations. The key is to learn from those mistakes! Helen put it like this: “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
As I took time out this week I was also reminded that “what I am looking for is not out there, it is in me” (Helen Keller). As strange as it may seem, when I made the effort to go for a few long walks, reduced the clutter in my heart and mind, God spoke to me as well! So, when was the last time you went on retreat and did some soul searching?
Chaplain Ian S Whitley