Despite the challenges brought on by the events mentioned in my last post, these past couple weeks have been rich with study and contemplation. I think the freedom of both time and mental/emotional space has paved the way for a very life-giving season of considering identity-related questions: what do I believe, what do I value, what are some areas of needed growth, how do I want to live, what is the church, where am I headed, why does every barista have a different interpretation of what “light room” means, etc.
As I’ve turned to the wisdom of others, I’ve found guidance for the journey in all these areas, especially regarding the nature and demands of living in community. I share here, over the next few days, some of the wisdom gained recently regarding life in community, by people who are much more articulate and poignant in their words than I.
On Self-Awareness—Nouwen (The Genesee Diary):
“…I had just begun to realize how much my own life was motivated by self-glory: even going to monastery could be a form of self-indulgence. My problem with work is obviously related to my tendency to look at manual labor as a necessary job to earn a couple of free hours to do my own work. Even when this work seems very spiritual, such as reading about prayer, I often look at it more as an opportunity to make interesting notes for future lectures or books than as a way to praise the Lord.”
Reading Nouwen can be very liberating. I feel like he gives me the permission to be transparent, to not be shy about confessing my inadequacies, fears, self-doubts, and most importantly in all that—to not deceive myself. His words come from a published version of his journal from a short stint living at a monastery. The first quote reminds me of the continual struggle to look at all of my life as significant, rather than just a small part of my day or week.
I don’t tend to feel overwhelming excitement about the end of a weekend, but last Sunday evening, I found myself genuinely eager to get back to work. I don’t always feel that way, but because I love the community I’m a part of at Evergreen so much, I think I’m truly drawn to being there—with a community I value, and a role—teaching—I love.
I think this is one of many movements or journeys I’m continually on—living more and more in the present, cherishing even the simplest, mundane moments as a gift, not simply something to be endured. Or even further than that, as Nouwen recalls, I’d like to be able to enjoy a given moment not just for how it’s contributing to my own “kingdom” or glory or advancement, but simply because it’s an opportunity to find God and praise God.
I feel like this kind of presence in the moments we are in and with the people present to us maybe related to "how well" we do community. Just last night, I was babysitting three of my newly-acquired-through-marriage nephews--Aaron, Donny, and Beniah. For part of the time I was working on my computer, kind of monitoring them while also doing some writing. At some point, I felt funny about this. Sure, they didn't need my continual maintenance; they were fine as they were. But I felt like I was missing something. Even though they are only 4, 3, and 2 years old, I felt like something precious was to be gained from being more fully present to them. I shut the computer and embraced the moment...and had a blast! Donny actually said to me earlier in the evening "close it...close it...you got to close it" in reference to my computer...how's that for a genuine call to be present to him?!
“While (working this afternoon), I realized how difficult the control of thoughts…really is. My thoughts not only wandered in all directions, but started to brood on many negative feelings, feelings of hostility toward people who not given me the attention I wanted, feelings of jealously toward people who received more than I, feelings of self-pity in regard to people who had not written, and many feelings of regret and guilt toward people with whom I had strained relationships. While pulling and pushing with the crowbar, all these feelings kept pulling and pushing in me.”
The second quote, again, captures what I love about Nouwen—a courageousness in admitting his weaknesses, to others and to himself. I saw my own challenges in his. Most of the time my mind is moving too fast with other concerns to allow these negative thoughts to come up. But it can be shocking when they do arise. Hostility, jealousy, self-pity, regret, guilt—how easy for these to emerge when we’re not centered, not at peace, not sustained by the deeper truth about our beloved-ness and our call to love.
How easy to, out of some kind of lacking or emptiness, allow some very ugly emotions to rise to the surface, turning us against others, and against ourselves. I’m trying to learn to listen to these emotions; it seems like the path to wholeness and peace and freedom goes through them.
I believe a part of doing community well requires us to stop and wrestle with these kinds of feelings and thoughts, as painful as they may be. If we don't, then we will carry into our relationships a lot of hidden emotions like resentment and neediness and jealousy and pride that affect our ability to really bless and be blessed by others.