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Joan Chittister Tells Us How to Partake Of A Full Harvest

Life is a thing of many stages and moving parts.

What we do with ease at one time of life we can hardly manage at another. What we could not fathom doing when we were young, we find great joy in when we are old. Like the seasons through which we move, life itself is a never-ending series of harvests, a different fruit for every time.

The skill of life, of course, lies in harvesting well and harvesting always, in taking the best that life has to give at any stage, in being patient with ourselves along our way. The Sufi tell a story about what happens when we force things: Once upon a time, the story goes, a seeker found a cocoon resting quietly. Intent on seeing the butterfly within, the seeker held the cocoon in loving hands, breathed warm breath upon it and watched with excitement as the butterfly emerged. But hardly had the newly hatched beauty spread its wings when it died. “Why did my butterfly die?” the seeker asked the Holy One. “To teach you a lesson,” the Holy One said. “Everything can be born in due time; nothing can be rushed.”

The secret of life is to let every segment of it produce its own yield at its own pace. Every period has something new to teach us: The harvest of youth is achievement; the harvest of middle age is perspective; the harvest of age is wisdom; the harvest of life is serenity.

The Rule of Benedict tells us to do all things with counsel, to learn from those around us who have already gone the way before us, to ask the opinion of the entire community when making major decisions. Those are all good lessons. They can save us from ourselves. They can stop us from forcing butterflies before their time. They can make the harvest full.

—from A Monastery Almanac 

Joan Chittister is one of the most influential religious and social leaders of our time. For 40 years she has passionately advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues, and church renewal. A much sought-after speaker, counselor and clear voice that bridges across all religions, she is also a best-selling author of more than 50 books, hundreds of articles, an online column for the National Catholic Reporter, and a blog for the Huffington Post.

This essay was featured in the Nov. 25th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.