Sometimes the best gifts come in unexpected packages. Perhaps this is God’s way of encouraging us to see the hidden treasure lying beneath the challenges in life. Here are three such gifts that at first glance seem to come in very odd wrappings: solitude, silence, and spiritual hunger.
First, the Gift of Solitude. Most people are either uncomfortable or bored unless others are around. If, however, we patiently see through the seeming isolation of solitude, we may find a surprising hidden reward.
There’s a story of a guru who made an unusual request of three of his disciples. “I’m going to give each of you a banana,” he said, “but don’t eat it until you are absolutely sure that no one is watching and you are alone. Come back when you have completed this task, and tell me what happened.”
Eager to please their guru, the three quickly headed off to fulfill his request. The first one returned shortly and reported, “I ran to my house, went into my room, and locked the door. Sure that no one was watching, I ate my banana, and here I am.” The guru patted him on the head, and said, “Very good. Now let’s wait for the others.”
The next man returned after an hour. “Master,” he said eagerly, “knowing that there are always people around in my home and in the shops, I headed towards the outskirts of town near the jungle. Here I was confident that I was alone, and I ate my banana.”
Again the guru patted this disciple on the head, and said, “Very good. Let’s wait for the last one to return.”
They waited and waited, until day turned to dusk, and dusk to evening. Finally as the first rays of dawn began to creep into the sky, the third disciple appeared, looking very weary and downcast, and still holding her banana.
“I’m sorry, Master,” she said. “I have failed you. I walked and walked until I found myself in the jungle. But everywhere I went, I felt that I was never alone. Deeper and deeper I went, but always I felt that someone was watching me. Because I always felt a presence near me, I couldn’t eat the banana.” She threw herself at her guru’s feet and began to cry.
Raising her up, he said with great tenderness, “My child, you are the only one who has passed my test. You have discovered that we are never alone. The unseen Presence you felt was God, who is always with each of us.”
Next, the Gift of Silence. How rare in the world is real quiet! The sound waves of our planet are filled with noise, because people seem to need the distraction of it. Once we had the great blessing of hearing a talk given by Richard Wurmbrand, a Lutheran priest who’d been imprisoned and tortured by the Communist regime for preaching in his native Romania. He told of being kept in solitary confinement for years in an underground cell completely devoid of light or sound. Food would be slipped in through a slot in the door once a day.
As he told of the inhuman treatment to which he had been subjected, his face became more and more illumined, until he became radiant, all but translucent. With an inward smile on his lips and a distant look in his eyes, he said, “In that absolute darkness and silence, there is the most beautiful sound.”
The gift he had been given in that silent prison cell was the sound of AUM, the divine vibration from which all creation is made. In Christian terminology, it is called the Holy Ghost, or the “Great Comforter,” because it brings with it the living reassurance that we are all one with the Spirit of God.
Finally, the Gift of Spiritual Hunger. Once a fellow disciple of Swami Kriyananda was bemoaning the fact that he didn’t seem to be making any spiritual progress. He said to their guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, “Sir, I don’t believe that I have very good karma.”
“Remember this,” the Master replied with deep earnestness, “it takes very, very, VERY good karma even to want to know God!”
Spiritual hunger, the seemingly unrequited love for the Divine, is the greatest gift of all. It is a treasure planted in our hearts by God Himself to draw us to Him. Yes, that love seems unrequited, but it is we, not God, who are holding back. With every pang of devotional yearning, with every feeling of discouragement at your progress, feel that the silent, ever-present voice of God is calling you back to your home in Him.
This treasure trove of divine gifts is ours for the finding, if we but open our hearts and minds to the hidden realities that are shining within us, around us, and everywhere.
In divine friendship,
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