I’m not sure where to begin. I’m not sure at all if there is any topical connection between all the things I’ve heard and seen during the last days. But here they are.
We celebrated the life of a friend who had his 80th birthday. He is in religious life, with a commitment to humility, simplicity, work and prayer. And he has touched the lives of so many – on his 80th birthday, he was surrounded by a wonderful variety of people, some of his family, some of his brothers from the Community he belongs to and many of the people among who he lives. People of every age, numerous languages, many with disabilities, many with a deep commitment to their faith life, many who have walked with him for some of the way or all the way. The way he celebrated this birthday is the result of the courageous choice to lead a simple life in the midst of a complex world.
I met friends and spent hours talking with them and realised that they, like me, are reviewing everything just now. Different decades of our lives but the same search for purpose, repeated over and over again – seeing the 30 coming, or the 40, or 50. We all ask the same questions and we are desperate for answers. We have to know who we are while we feel that others keep telling us who to be. We have to know what is our purpose in life while others try to hurry us into a life for which the only motivation would be financial safety – or the fact that we wouldn’t disrupt their comfort zones with our choices. Lives that terrify us with their demand for conformity and functionality. “Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I belong?” Who will listen to us then? Who will sit with us and wait with us, let us cry and talk and pray with us? “Don’t give your heart to what doesn’t satisfy your heart” (Abbe Peomen). I was glad today that I was there when my friend needed me to be with her. I was glad that I could understand how she felt because I have been in that place, or because I’m still there. I was glad that we know each other so well and trust each other so much, that she can cry and that I can hold her. This is a blessing too. And it is simple.
A friend’s son is in intensive care because he took drugs at a rave and his body shut down. He made a choice to accept whatever substance was offered to him, maybe for the first time, maybe not, and now he is fighting for his life, while his father sent out a request to everyone he knows to pray for his son. I ask you too – please pray for his son. And pray for my friend and his wife and the other son who sees his brother hanging between life and death. Please pray for them.
What are the choices we make in our lives? How do we choose? Can we be who we are, with humility and simplicity and trusting that this is all that is needed and that it will be enough? Can we take courage and face the life we have? Can we accept our failures? Can we accept circumstance? Can we accept success?
I take comfort when I am reminded that we can live our lives well in small ways. And that this is enough.
Maybe we grew up around people who expected us to be something that seemed completely out of reach for us, and we stretched ourselves and tried to achieve whatever we thought was necessary to be loved. And we take that with us into the rest of our lives. But what it comes down to, I thought today, is to let that go. It is not the purpose of our lives to satisfy someone else’s idea of who we are supposed to be. It is the purpose of our lives, however, to live, simply and humbly, as ourselves.
I serve God best when I accept that it is in small things that I can serve. By being a friend, most of all. By living well in the life I have, by taking care of this life and of all who are in it with gentleness and compassion.
If there is a calling to do this in a particular way or in a particular role, it will become clear in time. But this is always what is mine to do, and I will be faithful to it.