Can you be a listener rather than a savior?

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist is a community of Episcopal monks offering silence and sanctuary in the middle of bustling Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA. They strive to be “men of the moment,” responding to the call of God and the needs of the present world. One of their offerings during Lent was a series of thoughtful, if not provocative, video meditations about what it means to love in life.

One particular meditation contemplated listening as one way to collaborate with God. It asked, “Can you be a listener rather than a savior?”  Anywhere from 40 to 80 commenters responded to each meditation daily, forming something of a community over the course of five weeks. Many commenters spoke of “with-standing,” or standing with another, in response to this question.

It called to my mind a case worker in a domestic violence shelter where I volunteered fresh out of college. Clients came to her with real, seemingly insurmountable predicaments. Obstacles heaped upon obstacles were dumped at her feet for fixing. I wish I had words to convey the relief—the true blessing of grace—that would come over a client’s face when the case worker said, “Boy, that’s a tough one. I don’t know what we’re going to do about that. But, together, we will figure it out.” No answer, no remedy, no solution would have put people in crisis at ease the way she did by simply acknowledging the severity and letting them know she was in their corner.

That also put me at ease. As a naive 22 year old, I was conscious of what I lacked. What wisdom do I have to offer? Certainly I didn’t have any solutions for these inexorable real life problems. Confronting challenges we’re ill-equipped to handle is not the unique province of 22 year olds. We all face situations in life that seem bigger than we are. A neighbor pulled me over last week when I was out running. She’s the live-in care giver for my 90-something neighbor. He’s in decline, and she needed to talk. She has fear, uncertainty and doubt about the future and her ability to influence it.

We talked about loaves and fishes. Sometimes what we have to offer is woefully inadequate for the situation at hand. In the bible story, however, Jesus doesn’t ask his disciples to have enough. He asked them what they had. It suggests God doesn’t ask us to have enough, either. He merely asks us to give the inadequate bits we have so that he can do the miracle of making it enough.

Why do we resist? Are we afraid we’ll look stupid with our meager offering? Or are we afraid we won’t have enough for ourselves? Do we fear the failure that seems probable? Or do we fear a miracle even more? This last one intrigues me. It suggests we’re so attached to the notion we’re in control, we don’t make room for God’s power.

Join the conversation. To be heard, not to be fixed—is this what people really crave? Is this what God does?

Copyright 2014 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

When is Enough Enough?

Daughter competing last Saturday

Competition last Saturday

My 15 year old said a funny thing last week. It was after a Sunday school discussion I led. This otherwise outgoing and social teenager didn’t see anyone to sit with at the teen Godspell production, so she ended up in the back row of my class. It was about repentance—re-thinking our choices and where we’re headed in life—as one way we say, “Yes,” to the paschal mystery’s invitation to newness of life.

On the way home she said, “I often think I want to reinvent myself, but then I think about the time and effort required, and I realize it’s just not going to happen.” She said it with a pithy little laugh, like it was someone else’s quip she was repeating. I asked her what she meant, and she elaborated. “I think I want to compete better so I have to work out more, and I want straight A’s so I have to study more, and I want to be a more giving person so I have to participate more, but I don’t have more time for any of it.”

Well, she has a point. She trains with her team 2 hours every weekday and often more on weekends. She attends an academically competitive prep school and gets good grades — A’s in almost every class, just not all at the same time in the same semester. She does about 2 hours of homework every day, including weekends. Some nights she starts homework at 9:30 p.m. when we get home from the gym. I’m not saying she has no room for improvement. She does, but she is a good time manager, and that includes treasuring the unscheduled time she has and needs.

Her comment could have been in response to my class. The class was about how we all need course corrections on life’s journey. People who are disciplined about frequent self-examination may find only small corrections needed, while those who seldom check if they’re on track may need bigger corrections. If we re-think where we’re headed in life and find we’re on the wrong course entirely, a total turn-around may be what we need. The point is at some point, we all have to stop what we’re doing to take stock. When we make room for God and expose ourselves to transformational grace in the process, we say, “Yes!” to the invitation to experience life in profoundly new ways.

My first thought about her comment was she had taken quick stock and was saying, “No thank you” to the invitation to change. Upon reflection, though, I hear in her comment some wisdom that was NOT in my class. And that is being content with what you have to give at this moment. No one has unlimited resources, including time, so we all have to prioritize. The sky is not the limit. It takes a particular equanimity to give what you have, without self-condemnation for not having more, and to let God do the miracle of making it enough. I think I heard in her comment that who she is now is enough for now. Maybe next time the 15 year old should be teaching the class.

Join the conversation. How do you discern the course-corrections you need without self-flagellation?

Copyright 2014 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.