The philosopher Meister Eckhart wrote, "If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is 'Thank You,' it will be enough." So I'd like to offer a prayer of gratitude to three people who have enriched and enlarged my life in the deepest, most profound ways. My life's search for peace and spirituality has taken many turns -- and I wouldn't have gotten where I am today without their guidance.
Dear Dr. Jack Crossley, Sam Beasley and Jaime Jusidman,
They say, "When the student is ready, the teacher appears." That was certainly true when I met you, Jack. Your graduate school classes in Theological Ethics shaped my faith for the rest of my life.
You introduced me to the western world's great theologians -- Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr, Thomas Aquinas, Paul Tillich, St. Augustine and others. You challenged and expanded my understanding of God at a time when my faith was young, immature and naïve. At times I cried in frustration and prayed in desperation, longing to know which of these great thinkers was right about the nature of God.
You were patient and kind with this young seeker and understood when I finally gave up in exasperation. You simply smiled and nodded. That losing struggle, you helped me see, had been worth it. "Not knowing is often a very good place to be," you said, helping me make peace with the mystery.
Sam -- I don't know if you remember this, but a few years ago I called you to share a complaint about something that wasn't going well in my life. I can't even remember what it was, exactly -- all I remember is your reply: "Your life is your prayer, BJ. Whatever you've got going on in your life is what you've been praying for -- either consciously or unconsciously. If you want something different in your life, pray a different prayer."
"Can you explain that a bit more?" I asked.
"The universe is a giant YES machine," you replied. "Whatever you're thinking about, the universe will give you. If you are worrying, 'I don't have enough money,' the universe will say 'Yes, you don't have enough money.' If you're constantly lamenting to your friends, 'I don't have a man in my life,' the universe will respond, 'Yes, you don't have a man.' ... Your thoughts and words are prayers -- and the universe always gives you what you're praying."
I did tend to dwell on the things that that weren't working -- sources of doubt, discouragement and frustration -- because they bugged me. "But it seems the harder I try to figure out what's wrong, the more a solution eludes me," I said. "It's bedeviled me for years -- why can't I make my life work in ALL areas?"
"You just have to stop complaining," you told me. "Start focusing on what you do want, not what you don't want. Make your prayers positive and affirming -- see if that brings you different results."
Ever since then, I've been consciously choosing new thoughts and having new conversations -- and I've gotten new results. You were right, Sam. My life is my prayer. The decisions I make throughout the day, the attitudes I adopt, the way I respond to other people and the thoughts I think are all prayers.
While Jack and Sam nourished my faith and my spiritual self, you, Jaime, helped open my eyes to the love in my life. You just have a way of gaining people's trust. They open up about the most personal things -- often things hidden deep in their past. After a few short minutes of talking with you, suddenly they want to lie down on a couch and tell you what a lousy job their mother did potty training them!
In the course of working together, coaching managers and executives during my days at the Los Angeles Times, you were always willing to offer me a little coaching, too. One particularly helpful conversation was about the difficult relationship I had with my dad. He and I butted heads a lot, and I often felt like he didn't love me.
So you told me a poignant story, about a man who was courting a woman he loved. He showed up at her door one day with a bouquet of daisies. "What's this?" she said, looking at the flowers. "I want roses! Where are my roses?" Her suitor hung his head and left, still clutching the daisies.
The next day he came back to her door, this time offering his beloved a beautiful bunch of tulips. "I want roses!" she said. "Where are my roses?" He turned around and left, still holding the tulips.
He came back to her door the third day, now offering a fabulous, fragrant collection of lilies. She opened the door, took one look at the flowers and said, "Roses! I told you I want roses!" The man turned around and left, still holding the lovely lilies.
He retuned a few more times until one day, he didn't. The man never came back.
"You see, BJ, love shows up in our lives in many ways," you told me. "But if we insist that love look a certain way, we might miss it altogether."
"So you think my father loves me and I just don't recognize it?" I asked. "Very possible," you said. Not only did your story help me recognize that my father does indeed love me, but I was able to see the many different ways that other people love me, too. Your simple story opened my eyes; because of you, I recognize love all around me.
Jack, thank you for being just the right teacher at just the right time in my life. I love you for that. And I love what you taught me, Sam. You are a wise and generous friend whose wisdom enriches the lives of many people, including mine.
But of all your support, I am most grateful for your holding a space for me. In the words of Heather Plett, "holding a space" means:
... we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they're on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.
Jack, Sam and Jaime -- you three guys mean the world to me. I don't see you very often because we live in different places, but your friendship, your love and the wisdom you've shared are with me every day. Thank you for helping to make me the person I am today.