The experience of dining alfresco on a fine day with a light meal and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc … perhaps with laptop opposite me on the table, or with a good book in hand. This was something I learned to enjoy whilst completing my Masters degree, back before I entered the convent. A research student isn’t anti-social by design, but does end up spending a great deal of time alone, working away at reviewing the available literature on a given topic, or updating the latest chapter in the dissertation that is the object of his/her research. When I couldn’t tear myself away from what I was working on, but needed a change of scene, I’d find a nice restaurant or cafe and I’d nerd it up in style. 🙂
Since returning home from the convent and obtaining some modest employment, I’ve found that I’ve returned to the practice of dining alone at a nearby cafe, with either a laptop or a book to keep me company. In the early stages of my PhD, this is unsurprising, I suppose. It was a winning study formula during my last degree – why not stick with what worked?
The thing is, I think I’m addicted. No – not to the sauv blancs or the lattes. Not to anything you would have THOUGHT would be called an addictive substance. I think I’m addicted to the ambience, to the joy of discovering a new, quirky cafe or a new favourite menu item to delight the taste buds. I’m addicted to the experience.
As part of my personal campaign to do better, I’m looking honestly at some of the things that get in the way of my peace with myself and my relationship with God. Dining out at cafes is definitely a good to be enjoyed… but I think its important to look at HOW we enjoy things, and why.
Often, for me, the experience of dining out is an escape… a sort of numbing agent. If I am finding my post-convent lack of direction and peace troubling, and if I have a little bit of disposable income available on a given week, then I’ll go and cheer myself up with an afternoon out. Oh – I’ll take my research with me. Nothing worse than spending an afternoon unproductively and feeling guilty about it later. But in a sense I remove myself from my regular environment and place myself somewhere that is pleasant in numerous sensory ways. I distract myself from what I am feeling so that I don’t have to face it, process it, pray about it, work on it.
Lately, I’m realising, though, that not even my subconscious is fooled! I picture in my mind’s eye “the perfect afternoon,” note down all the things that need to happen to make it so, and then execute the plan… and come up dry. The lack of peace doesn’t disappear, and even though I’ve eaten lovely food and had a comfortable afternoon and enjoyed some time to myself, I come out the other end unsatisfied.
I’m looking for peace and happiness in all the wrong places, all over again.
Distracting myself from my need for God is unhelpful. I need to frankly admit my need of Him, to Him. Numbing my frustration, trying to escape – they are different ways of describing the classic self-lie. And the dis-ease that I feel is the evidence that even as I try to lie to myself, I really do know the truth. Maybe that constant yearning for Him that I really do feel is my prayer when I’m not consciously/deliberately praying? My lack of satisfaction with the things and experiences of the world, my lack of comfort with the holding pattern that post-convent life seems to look like just at the moment – all of these things just ARE. They’re my experience of reality right now. They’re the things that I need to be honest about WITH MYSELF so that I can, in turn, be honest about them with God, and take them before Him.
The next time I go out to enjoy a bite and a nice glass of something, I think I really will enjoy it more – because I’ll know that, even though life isn’t perfect, and that the afternoon won’t be perfect, life is good. It really is good. And God is with me in my need. And I’m not running from the things in my life that aren’t just right. I’m sitting there at the table, with my glass of wine, my frustrations, my insecurities and a good book. There at that table, I’m not hiding anymore, because I’m sitting at a table for two, and He is with me.