By Bill Harley
A few years ago, I lost a ring that was very dear to me. The path to finding it was amazing to me and I am still trying to understand the full meaning of what occurred.
It all started at the time when Jean and I had submitted our book to the publishing company (the one that eventually published both of our books) and we were waiting to hear whether or not there was interest in publishing it. At the time, we had written one long book about the ultimate purposes of life, the spiritual growth patterns designed into life by the Creator and Compassionate Consultation as the problem solving and decision-making process that could help one choose a purposeful life and navigate the spiritual growth patterns along the way.
After a few weeks, the publisher called us and offered to publish the book under one condition: that we split the one book into two books—one on the ultimate purposes of life and the spiritual growth patterns designed into life by the Creator, and the other on Compassionate Consultation. Mind you, Jean and I had spent over a decade researching and weaving these subjects together into a single book; so our first reaction was stunned disbelief. However, as we reflected on the publisher’s reasons for splitting the one book into two, we had to admit that his proposal made a great deal of sense. So we signed the publishing contract.
Then, the hard work began—or should have. We agreed that I would take the lead on breaking the books apart; and then we would go through a back and forth collaborative process of editing, rewriting, and re-editing until we were both satisfied. So I began the surgery on the book—splitting it as I thought of it, like conjoined twins, into two books; creating new connecting devices where portions had been excised, cauterizing certain sections to change them from mid-sections to end sections, and largely dismantling a great deal of what we had worked so hard to integrate in the initial book.
For the next couple of months, I worked very slowly and sporadically in this way; felt a great deal of inner conflict about what we were doing; and struggled to move the project forward.
Then, at bedtime one night, I noticed one of the two rings I wear was missing. My wedding ring was still on my finger, but the other ring I wore on the next finger was nowhere to be seen. The missing ring, like my wedding ring, was very close to my heart. It was a silver ring with a spiritual symbol on it which represented the relationships between the realm of God, the realm of the divine Messengers, and the realm of humanity. I wasn’t sure how long the ring had been missing, but I hoped somehow to find it.
It was early winter in Minnesota. Over the next several days I checked all my gloves and the pockets in my clothing and outer garments; I checked all the places at home, in our cars and in my office where the ring could have slipped off my finger; and then I called and checked at every place I had been in the preceding week to see if a ring had been found. I found nothing.
As my separation of the two books crawled along in the following weeks, I increasingly ruminated about the fact that I was searching for a ring I had lost. This situation held great mystery for me because, in a generic way, I had been thinking about this for over 40 years in connection with a profound parable that greatly influenced my spiritual journey.
If you have read what became Jean’s and my first book—Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing?—you know about the Watchman Parable in which a lover has become separated from his beloved and has been unsuccessfully seeking her for long years. He comes to a point where he can no longer bear the separation from her and goes on a quest to relieve his suffering. During his quest, he is obstructed and chased by “watchmen”—people who seem intent on harming him and driving him off course. Ultimately, the lover is cornered by the watchmen and, to escape them, he climbs a high wall with great difficulty and, giving up his life, throws himself into the darkness on the other side. He lands in a garden; and there he unexpectedly finds his beloved “searching for a ring she had lost”.
The lover immediately realizes that, rather than obstructing him, the watchmen forces have actually guided him to his beloved; and these guiding forces have been sent by God. As a result, the lover is not only reunited with his beloved, but draws closer to God. And it is clear in the parable that similar watchman forces have uncannily guided his beloved to this synchronized meeting point in the garden as part of her search for the ring she has lost. The parable suggests that, while very challenging, these divinely guiding “watchman” forces play a powerful, growth- producing and ultimately benevolent influence in all our lives.
So here I was, struggling to rewrite one book into two books and also searching for a ring I had lost, which was a key theme of one of the emerging books. What did it mean? I asked Jean to use Compassionate Consultation with me to try to answer that question. In the parable, we gradually concluded, the beloved’s search for her ring seemed to represent a search for completion; and we were seeking completion of the two books.
The fact that I considered the ring I had lost as my “spiritual” ring made us wonder if it represented the emerging book on the purpose of life and the spiritual growth patterns designed into life by the Creator—which included the Watchman Parable. Possibly, instead of working on the reshaping of both books simultaneously using the clinical metaphor of separating conjoined twins, I needed to “search for” the “completion” of the “spiritual” book first.
The moment this conclusion took shape, a new metaphor for the task entered my mind: it came from the statement by the sculptor, Auguste Rodin, that when he began a sculpture of the human form (e.g., “The Thinker”), he thought of the figure already complete, but imprisoned inside the block of marble—his job being to free the already-sculpted shape from the surrounding marble. With this thought, I felt a surge of energy and realized that my task was not a clinical but an artistic one to free the “already-completed” first book from its entanglement with the second one.
With that, the search for my ring changed my slow and sporadic work into highly motivated and focused work aimed at discovering the true nature of the first book on its own terms. The work was still very difficult, but, as the cold winter weeks went by, I completed the first draft and Jean and I began generating heat in our interactive process as we gradually refined that first draft of the first book.
As we worked, we realized that the watchman forces—searching for a publisher, finding the publisher, the need to separate the books, the frustration of my early attempts to separate the books, the loss of the ring, the failure to find it, the thought and consultative process it spawned leading to the reframing of the task at hand—all of them reflected the hand of divine guidance. We were scaling a wall with great difficulty, but we were increasingly confident that the beloved—completion of the first book—was waiting on the other side of the wall.
In the early days of spring, having relentlessly maintained our focus on the task, we turned the final draft of the first book—freed from its entanglement with the second book—over to the publisher with a sense of joy in completion. My only lingering regret was the loss of my “spiritual ring” as the ransom for our new awareness and achievement.
Three days later, I received an email from a friend which read: “Didn’t you say you had lost a silver ring during the winter? I found one this morning in the greening grass along the edge of our front sidewalk where the melting snow had receded. It had been lying hidden under the snow all winter. Could it be yours?”
Indeed, it was my ring; and I recalled that Jean and I had attended a prayer meeting at this friend’s house early in the same week that I lost the ring. At that meeting, I had silently prayed for guidance on how to accelerate my slow progress on separating the two books. Looking back, it was clear that my answer to that prayer—the ensuing watchman forces beginning with the loss of the ring—began guiding me almost instantly. And the finding of the ring was the second beloved and final “completion” in this real life parable.
To understand how these guiding forces impact your life, read our first book, Now That I’m Here, What Should I Be Doing?
To understand the process of Compassionate Consultation that Jean and I used to discover what was trying to happen in our lives, read our second book, TRANSFORMED: How to Make the Decisions That Change Your Life