Good morning, all,
First, a brief update: I have another post featured on the S-O-S for Parents blog this week; you can read it here.
Next, I want to share that the posting schedule at A wish come clear will alter slightly; in the coming weeks, I’ll be posting on Mondays and Thursdays.
The motivation behind this change is threefold: first, it reflects reading patterns on the site at present; second, it allows me to maintain the high level of quality content you desire; third, it allows me greater space for freelance work, guest posts and long-term projects. I welcome your feedback in this process!
Today is my friend Vincent’s* 81st birthday. As such, I’m thinking about something he said to me the first time we went on community vacation. When L’Arche takes vacation, everybody comes along: core members, assistants, community leaders, office staff. It’s a weekend of campfires, Boggle and scavenger hunts. Assistants still do daily-life routines with core members (somebody’s gotta help brush everybody’s teeth), but they are leisurely routines.
The schedule is flexible. The pace is unhurried. It’s a glorious change from the ‘real world’.
One afternoon, all I did was hang out with Vincent on the porch. We sat in lawn chairs, drank bottled water and spent time just being. I was an overeager new assistant, though, so I had trouble staying still. I’d spring up to refill his bottle (or bring him food, or tie his shoelaces.) And every time, he’d tell me, “No, dear. You rest. You just stay right where you are and rest.”
Gradually, I let those words sink in. (They’re sinking in still.) As I pay attention to those words, these questions come up:
Can ‘waiting with’ someone matter as much as ‘waiting on’ someone?
Vincent’s words helped me pay attention to what was actually needed that afternoon on the porch. He needed someone to rest with him. Someone to take a break with him. For that afternoon, he didn’t need someone to wait on him. He needed someone to wait with him.
Bear in mind: there’s a time and place to roll up your sleeves and serve. Daily life at L’Arche involves lots of practical, get-your-hands-dirty tasks. However, there’s also a time to simply be with someone, without a flurry of activity.
To ponder: How many times have you jumped up to serve someone instinctively, rather than considering the possibility that what they needed most was your undivided attention? Put another way: do you consider your presence as a gift you can offer?
Does my service run the risk of becoming me-centric?
There was a paradox inherent in my attitude toward Vincent that day. I wanted to help, to serve him as best I could. I wanted to do things that signified my love for him. But that attitude, however well-meaning, was focused on me, on my expectation of what he’d need. (Notice how many times ‘I’ appeared in the sentences above.) That attitude, however well-meaning, actually blocked me from true service. When I shifted focus and started paying attention to what would serve Vincent…my behavior changed. I stopped thinking about being a great assistant and started thinking about Vincent’s need. What did he want and need most in that moment?
He wanted someone to sit on the porch with him and watch the day go by. That’s all. No grand gesture, just a friend to hang out with.
It’s like that line of Mother Teresa’s: “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
To ponder: Is it difficult for you to ‘think small’ when it comes to loving others? (When it comes to loving yourself?) Why? Could ‘saving the day’ mean ‘just showing up’ for someone else, being attentive to their truest need?
Is my fear of not being ‘enough’ blinding me?
Something else Vincent began saying during that time has stayed with me to this day. Whenever I’d make a mistake while on routine with him — when I’d drop a book or forget gloves — I’d get flustered and frustrated with myself. Again, I was a new assistant, and I wanted so badly to do well, to do things right. And so I’d apologize. Vincent would look at me, calm as can be. He’d pat my shoulder and say, with all the wisdom of an octogenarian: “Don’t worry, dear. I still love ya.”
To ponder (all right, to do!): If you can say that to a stressed-out someone today, say it.
Let me tell you, it feels really, really good to hear.
*Names have been changed.