Focusing on the Greater Good
“When one reaches the highest degree of human maturity, one has only one question left: How can I be helpful?” –Teresa of Avila
“You will know you haven’t yet reached perfection when you look for yourself first in a group photo”. This is one of the many insightful things that I learned while sitting at the feet of master teacher, Father Ronald Rolheiser last week at the 5-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation. He told us that we tend to automatically look to find ourselves in a group photo and if we feel like we are looking ok, then it’s a good picture! If our first instinct is to see how others look in the photo, we are closer to reaching perfection.
I suspect this steps on most everyone’s toes. We are all guilty of thinking about ourselves, our immediate and then extended families, our friends and our fellow church members before we consider the stranger, the person from the other side of the tracks, the neighbor whom we barely know. What would happen if we all decided to focus just as much (or more) on others?
Our DS Leonard Fairley, my previous pastor and my good friend recently gave me the gift and privilege of reading his not-yet published book. Silver Linings contains his life story from birth until he beat the odds and left for college. He was born into a family of abject poverty, often not knowing where their next meal was coming from. There were several along the way who did more harm than good in Leonard’s life… teachers whose words did more to tear down than build up and others who assumed that nothing good would ever come from him based on a stereotype. But God put others in his path to help him realize and live into God’s plan. His first encourager was his Grandma Gladys who saved his life as an infant and became the greatest theologian he will likely ever know. There were the Seventh-day Adventist ladies who brought Vacation Bible School into his neighborhood and Mrs. Almeta Black who had church in her home for Leonard and others who were comfortable worshiping there in their ragged clothes and bare feet. And there was Mr. Isler, a teacher who taught life lessons and offered encouragement in and outside of the classroom and Mr. Laviner who recognized that Leonard was actually intelligent rather than having special needs as he had been labeled because he was quiet. Miss Graham, the high school Bible teacher realized his need for community and made it possible for him to attend a State Bible Club Retreat, one of several transformative experiences that molded and shaped him.
We have choices to make each day. We can focus only on ourselves and our family, friends and fellow church members, or we can go beyond that and look for the Leonards on the edges. Who could benefit from a word of encouragement? Is there a family that might need more than a meal being delivered to them at Thanksgiving and Christmas? Are there systemic injustices that we can uncover if we just pay attention?
“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” –Hebrews 13:2