Objective #6: To encourage others to live as God sees us
Last week, we looked straight into the gap between where we are now and where God sees that we could be. We mentioned how the uncertainty makes us vulnerable, and how embracing that vulnerability is a startling statement to others who find it intimidating, shameful or threatening. Our willingness, in the end, will carry us through to the next step closer to living as God sees us – and, hopefully, encourage others to do the same, by the contagion of our confidence.
It gets into strange territory to assume we will make mistakes. Lest anyone think we are lowering the bar or excusing bad behavior, we mean “mistakes” in the sense of sincere miscalculations or misinterpretations. We may make these errors ourselves or others may make them regarding us; both senses apply equally here.
In the spiritual life, as a human, one must always assume the possibility of being mistaken. None of us are God. All of us are fallible. Circumstances are vast and full of variables, most of which are far beyond our awareness. Sacred Scripture alone is filled with people – holy people – who made mistakes, even though at the time they felt very correct in their judgment. Likewise, numerous holy people in Sacred Scripture were mistaken by others, misinterpreted and misunderstood. What sets them apart is that they do not become limited by, or enslaved to, the fact that there is discrepancy. People who are willing to be mistaken experience greater freedom, better learning and more lasting impact than those who fall into fear’s flight (such as when we avoid challenges) or fight (such as when we aggressively attack those who do not understand us).
Are we willing to take the chance that we are mistaken? Even horribly mistaken?
Are we willing to believe that the person insulting or ignoring us is really only using an incorrect formula, rather than deliberately seeking to hurt us?
As Missionaries, we are called to engage the gap, never giving up hope that one day we will finally understand, realize and remedy the barriers imposed by the errors impeding us. This applies equally to ourselves and to others around us.
Our spiritual patron Saint Thorlak knew plenty about being mistaken. He not only made mistakes, but he was often misunderstood and angrily accused of misunderstanding many. His teachings reflected the authentic Christian spirituality of the Catholic Church but were frequently challenged by people who found them difficult to practice or understand. He worked diligently to explain the theology behind the rules, and where he would not be heard, he lived them out by his own example, praying for the people who harassed and antagonized him. On his deathbed, he asked forgiveness from his closest associates for the times he caused them any vexation.
According to the Way of Saint Thorlak, this is how to be mistaken:
Caritas concerns our hearts and minds with the well-being of others. By giving others an allowance for mistakes, we encourage openness rather than cultivating fear, resentment and insecurity from behind closed doors.
Voluntary humility asks us to be exactly who we are, with no pretense or attempt to hide our needs. This is where we allow ourselves to make mistakes and actively trust others to support and guide us. Not everybody will, but those who do are the ones who will be most moved by our openness, and who will receive the richest spiritual nourishment in the process.
Contemplative sense of wonder means stopping to take in the big, big picture without sarcasm or cynicism, asking questions and pondering all possibilities. Try not to lock into assumptions. Ask why, ask how – because there will always be at least one explanation we have not considered. Understanding others does not mean saying they are correct – it means finding the algorithm they are using and realizing how they arrive at the conclusions they have.
Leading by example is both our willingness to be seen and our commitment to authenticity. It also means targeting only ourselves for change. Our job is not to correct others – it is to provide information. Give others the freedom to agree or disagree, and to follow along if they wish. Be willing to fail first so others can see it is not as devastating as they fear. Live out our belief in God’s forgiveness by being willing to be both wrong and forgiven.
Life is far from perfect, and so is Missionary work. We are prepared to put ourselves out there, to put these ideas to the test, and to correct the areas that fall short. We know very well that our ideas will not work in every situation or with every person. But they might shape a mindset which brings people closer to living better connected lives.
Pray: Heavenly Father, I offer all that I am, and all that You see me to be. Please help me, each step at a time, to come closer to the life You imagine for me by showing me Your love and support each time I fail.
Contemplate: Are we willing to be mistaken? Do others expect that from us? How does willingness to be wrong change the dynamics of our encounters?
Relate: Focus this week on one of the four Ways of Saint Thorlak (Caritas, Voluntary Humility, Contemplative Sense of Wonder, Leading by Example) in terms of being mistaken, and see how it impacts our interactions.
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