By Sr Audrey, fcJ, first published on her blog Surprising Grace.
It’s been some time since I wrote. The intervening time seems to have passed in a bit of a blur. Some moments stand out: the sunset on late afternoon walks home, light moments with the community, surprisingly deep conversations with friends or people I met for the first time, curious dogs on the street, the excitement of children. But a lot of the time has gone by in restless activity – one thing after the other of what I might call work – leaving me drained and looking for ways out of the “productivity trap” (which I wrote about in an earlier entry).
It’s not that the work is not interesting. But sometimes I wonder if it is enough; if it really makes a difference. Perhaps some of this is due to the nature of the work I’m engaged in at the moment – research and advocacy – which has no visible immediate impact; but perhaps in another way it is a question that can be asked about anything that we do.
As I write this I’m sitting in a hotel in Cebu, where a colleague and I have come to do some interviews with NGOs. Doing these interviews has been an unexpected joy for me: talking to different people about their work, and in so doing catching a small glimpse of why they do it and the kinds of sacrifices that they make to do it. I don’t doubt the passion that these people have as they try to bring about a better world in the ways that they can – sometimes in very different ways from each other! And I feel the same kind of desire in myself.
But this desire can also be taken out of proportion when it drives one to work to the point of exhaustion, or brings about anxiety about whether you could do things better. It can actually be a kind of spiritual malaise. Whose kingdom am I building when I worry about the kind of impact I am making? A passage I reflected on recently was especially thought-provoking in this regard. It said:
Once you admit God into your life, once you honestly admit that God’s dwelling in you brings responsibilities, once you dispel illusions that you can do nothing, you will find what you can do and in whose power you can do it. You will know that you are not Atlas bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders; [God] has already done that. In prayer… you begin to learn the mind and heart of God and to test your own values and choices by [God’s] yardstick. (From Reflections on the Spirituality and Identity of the Faithful Companions of Jesus by Sr Breda O’Farrell, FCJ)
The idea of balance there was what stood out for me: yes, we do have a responsibility to do something about this world we live in. But at the same time we are not the authors of the process; we are not the ones “bearing the weight of the world on [our] shoulders”.
All good change is driven by a life-giving Spirit that we do not own or control, but which we are invited to become channels of. It is together with God that we are creating the world. A God whose ways are mysterious and whose timelines are too vast for our comprehension.
I catch a glimpse of this sometimes when I sit in the garden to pray. This quiet space every morning is a lifeline for me in the blur of the days. There is a particular bougainvillea plant that always catches my eye. It seems to have grown too tall for its place and you keep expecting the boughs to break under their own weight, but somehow they catch onto a part of the wall and right themselves, all the while producing tremendous bunches of beautiful pink flowers. Seeing this always reminds me of God’s generosity. The love of God that sustains the beauty of this little plant is the same love that sustains me and carries the world. Trusting in that love, I need not worry. My small efforts are – like the bread we offer in the Eucharist – taken up and transformed in God’s love.
If one day I can truly – like this little bougainvillea plant – learn to let go and trust in God, I would probably enjoy life a whole lot more!
Sr Audrey fcJ lives in Manila. You can follow her reflections on her blog Surprising Grace.