Objective #6: To encourage people to live as God sees us
Our Thoughts from the past several weeks have had a very positive feel to them. What joy to turn our attention to the idea that we are loved and valuable! What joy, indeed, to be ambassadors of God’s good will, to first believe it ourselves and then demonstrate God’s trustworthiness to others!
Folks: if that was all there is to be done, it would not require the likes of a Missionary effort to accomplish. It would already be widely in practice.
“To live as God sees us” means to believe that God loves us, both as we are and as He sees our potential to be – but this is just the foundation of the entire process, not the end itself.
God is, after all, outside of time, so He sees both “now” and “what can potentially be” in one totality. If we are imperfect right now (… which applies to all of us), God sees both our imperfections “now” and our greatest potential state of triumph. We acknowledge that God sees both our worth AND our current progress toward achieving its fullness. Let us illustrate it like this:
“As God sees us” = The line of totality between who we are now and who we are meant to be at our fullest;
“To live” = To enter into the full experience between “now” and “our fullest;” to engage the gap.
This is a radical suggestion to most of us. We are conditioned to avoid being wrong and to stay on steady ground. To engage the gap means not just to step in, but to actively experience and participate with all of our faculties. It is not a passive ride. It is not a powerless freefall. It is not dropping into a pre-defined role or pre-destined outcome. Engagement means taking head-on the challenge of navigating from wherever we are now to the point where we accept that God accepts us – and then flying fully into it. This is the entry point toward becoming more and more of who we are meant to be. Every moment we are in the gap, we experience and live out our needs – knowing that we are the same person now as we will be at the finish line.
Convincing people we are okay with our brokenness is the hardest Missionary work we will have to do. People do not expect us to be joyful being not quite there yet. People expect us to be anxious, defensive, self-preserving and protective of our vulnerability. Exposing our needs and admitting our imperfections is frightening to others because it goes against the very survival instincts that govern so much of our social behavior.
Nobody says it is not frightening to us, either. Revisit last week’s post and see that our job is encourage others by being the first to experience the fear and then report back that it is survivable.
Being vulnerable is VERY frightening. Being needy, being imperfect, being wrong and being open about it is an admission…
… that we are not suppressed by the fear of not being perfect…
… that we have nothing to hide…
… that we have nothing to lose…
… that we have no need for armor or weapons to guard our vulnerability…
… that we believe we actually are, right now, the person God has created us to be – even though the creative process is still in progress. Even if we have a long way to go. Even if our actual and potential selves are at opposite ends of the globe. We believe we still are that same person, not-quite-there-yet, engaging the gap because we trust we will get there.
It frightens people…
… who are frightened by vulnerability in general…
… who are frightened by their inability (yet) to be as vulnerable as we are…
… who do not recognize the glimpse we give of our potential selves, and fear we are drastically different than the person they know…
… who fear for our emotional safety when they see us taking risks with our vulnerability…
… who have been degraded during their most vulnerable times.
Bottom line, and important fact to remember: It frightens others when we are vulnerable.
Remember the old formula, fright = fight or flight? Do not be disheartened if our early efforts are met with fear, criticism, opposition, derision and pushing away… fight, or flight. Summon all of your patience and confidence, and greet the fear in others with the same kind of encouragement we discovered last week: “It’s okay! It’s only me!” And, we will be waiting here when the fear subsides, so that we can pick up and keep going on our journey together.
Pray: From the Diary of St. Faustina: “Eternal God, in Whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Thy mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Thy holy will, which is Love and Mercy Itself.” (950).
Contemplate: Consider any of these verses slowly and thoughtfully in light of what we have thought about this week:
Mark 6:50 Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
Isaiah 35:4 Tell everyone who is discouraged, Be strong and don’t be afraid!
1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
Psalm 94:19 When anxiety is great within me, your consolation brings joy to my soul.
Relate: How attuned are we in recognizing expressions of unease? Can we recognize unrest when it is masked by irritation, bravado, avoidance or disdain?
Mission Objective #6: To encourage people to live as God sees us
Having spent several weeks reflecting on how God sees us, we finally get to put things in action. As Missionaries of Saint Thorlak, we are called to encourage others to live as God sees us. True to our style, let us take this objective apart in order to understand it fully.
To encourage: At the root of this word is "-COR," referring to the innermost feelings of the heart. The prefix "EN-" suggests the action to put in . We are called to put the idea of how God sees us into the innermost feelings of our hearts, and the hearts of those around us. Wow.
To encourage people to live as God sees US. Not how God sees them, but how God sees us: ourselves, and, collectively, every person, as His beloved children.
A good number of us have difficulty believing that God is in love with us and longs for a relationship with us. Traditional logic says this is a matter of self-esteem. The messages of our culture constantly hammer us down, and the temptation to compare and compete with one another pervades nearly everything we do. Self-esteem is an important and valid reminder to each of us that we are valuable as ourselves, and that it is healthy to acknowledge our talents, assets and achievements. To the degree we are willing to believe in our worth, we are able to celebrate our uniqueness, abilities and station in life. With enough trust and practice, everyone can learn to believe they are worthy of being loved - so the logic goes.
Yet there are many among us who have reasonably good self-esteem, and who genuinely believe God desires a relationship with us... and still hold back. Why? If we believe we are worthy, and we crave the thrill of unconditional acceptance, why hold back?
Consider this personal testimony:
Awareness is the first step to seeing that fear is not an absolute barrier, but is more like a countercurrent we ford as we choose the course that will lead us to the realization of our true selves in God’s eyes.
Our ability “to encourage people to live as God sees us" can only come after we have taken the leap of belief ourselves. Only then can we know the moments between certainty and trust, and how long it takes for that wave of unknowing to subside. Our Mission is not to change minds or change behavior. Our Mission is to reassure ourselves and those around us that the resistance we feel toward seeing ourselves is just the startle of realizing who we really are in God’s eyes; that, “it’s okay, it’s only me.”
Pray: Heavenly Father, help me to hear and recognize Your voice until I no longer feel afraid.
Contemplate: What obstacles in my spiritual life are rooted in fear?
Relate: Am I ever afraid to see my reflection through others’ eyes? Notice… and, pray about it.
Spark Calling to Spark: Divine Indwelling and Community
I love going into a garden, and walking among the plants, flowers, birds, and trees. My joy springs from the experience of the divine in all that is created in the garden, each and every member of its community. One rose alone would be lovely, but my experience is deeply enhanced by the bees, the lilies, the pathways of exposed roots, the rabbit scattering under the bushes, the notes of birdcall, the leaves falling from the maple, the pine cones nestled against the foot of the mother tree. The ecological diversity of a little garden astonishes me, and it is merely one microcosm of the world, and indeed the universe.
In a similar way, we can have deep experience of the divine through one another, even and especially through our diverse identities and lives. We are formed in the image and likeness of our creator God (Gen 1:27), who chooses to make his dwelling with us (Ex 29:45-46; Lev 26:11; Ezk 37:27; John 1:14), and even within us (1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 6:16; Rom 8:11). When we authentically encounter one another, we come into contact with the divine in and through one another. Theologically, this moment of relationship with the divine is enosis, or experience of the divine in and through creation and community. What is important to know here is that in a state of grace we bear a divine spark within us, and that those we encounter do also. When two people come together in authentic relationship, spark calls to spark. We are touched and transformed by the divine when we cultivate the openness to be present to the other person in patient receptivity and loving acceptance.
The Apostle Paul gives us another image of this indwelling: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that the human body “is intended to become, in the body of Christ, a temple of the Spirit.” (CCC 364).
Jean Vanier thus gives us a complete picture of the profound meaning of indwelling: that if Christ dwells in us individually, and likewise Christ dwells in our neighbor, then he dwells in all the rich diversity of the people around us, this vast, beautiful garden of humanity. That includes the smallest, the weakest, the broken, the suffering, both within ourselves and in others. In fact, as Jean Vanier states, the “whole vision of Jesus” is this very thing: to enfold the weak, the impoverished, the suffering with love, and to likewise experience the enfolding in love of our own weakness, poverty, and suffering. For are not we all members of one and the same body, the same temple of Christ? We all share a common life and love: “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another” (Rom 12:5). In becoming the Body of Christ, we take up the mission of Christ, to love one another, and in so doing we each both give and receive love and acceptance.
We know through the gospel that our interactions with one another are, in a very real sense, interactions with the divine: Jesus says that “whatever you did for the least one of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). Moreover, we know that we are not to approach our relationships with some kind of intellectual or emotional calculation, but rather “love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (John 13:34). We are to be as children in the direct simplicity of our love and acceptance: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me” (Matt 18:3-5). Therefore our love for, and acceptance of, one another ought to be sincere and complete.
Jean Vanier notes that in community we may feel pressured to live up to an ideal image of ourselves, or to hide or change parts of ourselves, especially those that our world rejects or devalues. Yet these attributes of ours are often the very things that make us uniquely ourselves, and we should be comfortable and content in them. If we are the handiwork of our Creator God, then shouldn’t we choose to live out of the identity which God himself has fashioned for us? Community “is not about perfect people. It is about people who are bonded to each other, each of whom is a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, love and hate.” Community is defined by this loving bond between people, which “is the only earth in which each can grow without fear toward liberation of the forces of love which are hidden in them. But there can be growth only if we recognize the potential, and this will never unfold if we prevent people from discovering and accepting themselves as they are, with their gifts and their wounds.” Making room for this individual self-discovery and self-acceptance must be a critical hallmark of the community. As we are called by God to be who we are, and not what others impose on us, we are in turn enabled to respond likewise in being a part of the earth of that community which fosters growth, acceptance, and love.
Love, then, forms the basis for all. We can have confidence that God, who is Love (1 John 4:8), loves us (John 3:16) and makes his loving home with us (John 14:23), and that he has created us to be simply ourselves and no other (Ps 139:13-14). In living out our own graced purpose, our primary characteristic and action is love: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). As we love our neighbor in the poor, the weak, the broken, the suffering, we direct our love also to Christ (Matt 25:40). Thus paradoxically, profoundly, the indwelling of our Lord is directly tied to God’s outpouring of love to us and through us, in and through the community, which is also love tendered back to God.
I would like to close with a remark made to me by the founder of the Mission of St. Thorlak, Aimee O’Connell, during a conversation regarding indwelling and this divine spark within each of us. Aimee said: “Our mission is to go, defenseless, in search of that spark in the other person.” How right she is. Once we discover that divine spark burning within ourselves, we realize that spark calls to spark, and that our own spark compels us to go in search of the other, in vulnerability and openness to authentic encounter. The spark within us burns with God’s love, love which catches fire within us, which lights our neighbors in turn, as they light us with the fire of God’s love. Certainly, we may come up against all kinds of barriers in our effort to love sincerely and completely. In our contemporary, fast-paced, and high-tech world we often ignore or miss opportunities to truly and defenselessly connect with others. Yet these challenges only make our mission even more urgent today. Can we go, defenseless, in search of that spark in the other person? Can we, like the One dwelling within us, love and accept them for who they truly are?
Laura Reece Hogan is the author of I Live, No Longer I (Wipf & Stock, 2017) and O Garden-Dweller (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Find her online at www.laurareecehogan.com, and on Twitter: @laurarhogan .
Objective #5: To teach people to see how God sees us, and how God sees those around us.
Our first considerations of this objective have pondered how God sees us. With these musings taking root, we can now shift emphasis back to the purpose of the objective: to teach people to see how God sees us.
Teach people to see.
Teach people to SEE HOW (recognize the manner in which) God sees us as children full of potentiality… and, teach people TO SEE (personally witness and observe), in the same manner in which God sees us.
Teach people to see.
To see as God sees us: As His precious children.
How can we do this, realistically, in a world which favors childhood less and less?
There are a number of obstacles already which are fairly hard-wired into human nature and social constructs. Childhood equals need, equals dependency, equals responsibility. If I see everyone around me as a child, the responsibility will overwhelm me. If I try to imagine myself a child, the dependency will overwhelm me. The vulnerability, intimacy, need and wonder of childhood may be piercingly beautiful to contemplate but is out of bounds in any relationship outside of parent and child. Throngs of people are automatically dismissed and disqualified from our ability to consider them as children because each person is someone else’s child – not my child.
Not my child. Not my responsibility. Not my place.
Rather: God’s child. God’s responsibility. God’s place.
God sees each one of us in the way a proud father sees his sons and daughters. Seeing others is as simple as recognizing that each person we encounter is loved by God.
Here’s what. Visit any cliché in our minds of any storyline where an outcast goes from being shunned to being accepted. Avoid the urge to become wrapped up studying group psychology and dynamics of acceptance, whether we feel they are inevitable or social constructs to battle against. We are only looking to pinpoint that one thing which triggers a group to shift from rejecting someone to granting them acceptance and full membership.
That one thing is being loved. Vouched for, found acceptable, and admitted.
It is a worn-out plot device, but it holds true. If even just one character from the established group looks fondly on the outcast, the invitation opens because the outcast has been rebranded – no longer distrusted, but worthy.
From cliques in school to workplace alliances to sports leagues to college fraternities to loners to introverts to convicted criminals to people with bad reputations to people in high society… no matter how you choose to group people, the game changer between included and excluded is one person declaring another worthy.
If there is someone on the outside of our circle, we may never notice that person. But, let someone in our circle extend an invitation, and our mindset changes with that one gesture acknowledging their worth.
Folks: Someone in our circle HAS extended that invitation. To every single person you will encounter today, known and unknown. That “someone” is God, and He has declared every person “loved.” We may not know them, and we may not trust them… but God does.
Our job is to remember that. Constantly. Perpetually. Repeatedly.
As God's children, we are pre-approved.
As with any invitation, this is an open gesture, not a command. So, as we glance at the person in front of us, we are called to remember that God has seen and loved that person, and invited (not commanded) them to be part of our group: “You are loved. You belong here.”
Since God loves the person in front of us, we have that endorsement that they are admissible. They are no longer strangers, but invited guests. They are loved. They belong here.
The same is true with ourselves. We are loved. We belong here. We are invited guests. Not commanded, but invited.
Even if the other people around us did not see our name on the guest list… we know with certainty it is there.
Since we are on the guest list, we can also act on our Host’s behalf when we see those who do not yet realize they, too, belong. We can reassure them they are in the right place – by invitation, not command.
How do we teach people to see how God sees us, and sees those around us? By reminding them they belong here, in God’s eyes. By telling people explicitly, or by our unspoken gestures reassuring one another of our common status as God’s invited guests.
By sharing the good news: YOU are pre-approved!
Pray: Heavenly Father, teach ME to see Your invitation – to me, and to others.
Contemplate: When we treat others as approved members of our group, who is learning to see as God sees?
Relate: How do I behave, knowing I am pre-approved by God? How do I behave, knowing others are pre-approved by God?
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak