Absence makes heart stronger

Published 12:01 am Friday, October 5, 2012

The son I left on Thursday afternoon wasn’t the son I came back to on Sunday evening.

I swear the little guy had grown at least six inches while I was away on a church retreat last weekend. When he talked he sounded less like the toddler I remembered and more like a grown child.

I must admit when my wife and son left me in Brandon, there was a real moment of relief. We had just finished spending about 14 hours in the car traveling from the mountains of North Carolina back to Mississippi after a rejuvenating vacation.

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Even with a hotel break in Birmingham, the long trip home left Gibson a little frazzled at times. Most of the time he slept in his car seat. Most of the other “awake” moments were generally agreeable.

But there were those rare times when, like Harry Houdini, he began wriggling his way out of the restraints to insist we stop at the “Slide McDonald’s.” In his frustration, he threw a cup into the front seat.

By the time we reached Brandon, we were all ready for time away from the car and each other. I love being around my son, but 3-year olds must take courses in pushing buttons and finding that one thing that frustrates their parents the most.

So when they left me to drive to Canton for the four-day church retreat, I was more than ready for a few moments to myself — just me, God and 52 other people.

Unlike Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus there was no blinding light on the way to the retreat, but there was peace and quiet as I drove my car alone.

Church retreats can be life-affirming experiences — this past weekend certainly was. I have been to a handful of them in my lifetime. I always discover something about myself when I get away from the regular noise of daily life — that is especially true when there is no Internet connection and the faintest of cell phone signals.

The worries, frustrations and annoyances of life lifted like the fog rising on the lake during the first sunrise of my retreat.

The following days were a blur, filled with singing, listening, learning and fellowship.

When the last service ended with hugs and goodbyes Sunday afternoon I felt both fulfilled and exhausted from the entire weekend. After four days away, I was ready to see my wife and son.

A two-hour drive later, I climbed the front steps and received another round of hugs, except with hellos this time.

Soon Gibson started rattling off all of the things that happened while I was away.

Staring at him, I remarked to my wife how much different he seemed — taller and more grown up.

Had I been gone long enough to witness such changes? How much can a three-year-old grow in four days?

For another hour or so Sunday I recognized how remarkably calm and anxiety free the evening was. It was a stark difference from the drive three days ago and from the stresses of daily life.

Maybe the changes I witnessed were not so much in my son as they were in myself.

I may not have had a conversion experience like the apostle Paul, but maybe four days of introspection, reflection and rejuvenation was enough to help me see the blessings I do have instead of focusing on so much of life’s petty and insignificant worries.

Maybe a little absence makes the heart stronger.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.