Helping

My professional work in the coming week seems especially lonely. This past week I was reminded of being attentive to other people, their gifts, their struggles, and the ways our lives depend upon and draw from one another. Helping, supporting, and being a catalyst are a few of the ways I enact being attentive to others. As I try to more honorably love others and myself, I ponder what these words mean for me. Because…when I am self-conscious and sometimes afraid to be myself that robs me of joy.

Helping is relatively easy for me to do, but not always honorable. Just out of college, a young twenty something; I began dating a guy I met at church—honest. I had recently moved 1000 miles from home for an internship. My monthly salary was the same amount as my monthly rent on a one-room efficiency apartment. Needless to say, I lived frugally.

This guy, Jim, was from a wealthy and prominent family in my new town. We had only been dating a few weeks when his parents were having a party for their anniversary—I think 25th, a grand affair. I donned a passable dress I had made myself and accompanied Jim to his parent’s home. After a short time greeting his parents and a few guests, I quickly found my niche. I saw a need—helping the “help” in the kitchen—a few women who were washing all the dishes by hand. Most of the evening that is where I was, washing dishes, refilling trays, whatever was helpful to keep the party going.

At the end of the evening, before Jim took me home, we said goodbye to his parents. His mother gushed, “What a gift you have given us!”

I was a bit confused; she continued saying something about my hard work behind the scenes for the success of the day. I did feel honored that she had noticed and appreciated my efforts, but I never thought of what I did as a gift. Honestly, I felt self-conscious and out of place as soon as I arrived. Helping in the kitchen gave me purpose and kept me from having to talk to people I didn’t know. Not very noble. Helping, as I did on this occasion, is often more about me than the object- unfortunately a word that fits—of the action.

For me, helping is sometimes more about doing something to feel useful, than about building community. Sometimes helping means doing something that someone could easily do for themselves but I want to feel needed. Often, helping gives me control of the situation and that is not helpful. To be continued…

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Focus

It’s simple, right? If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at will change.

For a couple of days I’ve been working on a blog post that took on a different life. The writing became an achievement, the words working too hard  to say something that someone would want to read. I was striving for those kinds of words I read in other people’s writing that are healing, illuminating, and just beautiful so that they cause me to see the presence of God in the world anew. The reason I began to write this blog was to focus on what is joyful—not to gloss over what is difficult—but to see more wholly.

So today I will pay attention to what is worthy of praise, the grace that breaks into my discontent, my fears and uncertainties. About a month ago I received reviews on an article I’d submitted to an academic journal. Reading reviewers comments is always challenging and of course I focused on the overwhelmingness of the task they put before me.  I had six months, the first editor said, to complete the revisions and resubmit. No need to fret… until last week, when I got another email asking if I could have at least a draft of the revised article in 3-4 weeks. I said sure.

As I began the work, I lost my sense of what was possible. I held too tightly to my own part, what I can do on my own. Even in my failure to lean on God’s provision I continued to write my meditative “morning pages” and read devotionally. Feeling overwhelmed and inadequate, the words “bird by bird” evoking Anne Lamotts’ book by the same title, came up in my morning pages reminding me that I only have to work on one tiny part at a time. It is my choice to either focus on the impossibilities and what if’s instead of actually doing something.

I’m also not alone. Cease striving, and know that I am God. Before me, God’s grace provided this prayer from Martin Marty’s book, When True Simplicity is Gained: Finding spiritual clarity in a complex world.

Be near to me so that I may not feel the heaviness of labor, nor sink under adversity. St. Gertrude

 The title of the reading for the day was “focus”.  The photograph that anchored the reading was a simple cupola against a black background that made the off-centeredness starkly apparent- an apt metaphor for my misaligned focus as well.