Recently, I was reminded that we all want to do “great things” for God. Not a bad thing, simply a desire that is a response to our commitment to follow Christ. As I was considering this desiring to do some great thing for God, what dawned on me was that what I consider some “great” thing may or may not be what God considers a “great” thing. Often, we humans get caught up in our egos, in our desires for recognition that we are doing great things for God. Yet, scriptures tell us it is the very small things done with complete love and submission that are the “great things.”
Consider this question asked by Catholic priest and author Henri Nouwen, “How do we know that we are infinitely loved by God when our immediate surroundings keep telling us that we’d better prove our right to exist?” Bread for the Journey, “Witnesses of Love.”
As we come into a time in our lives when our jobs or careers fall away, our ability to continue to participate in activities we used to enjoy begins to wane, our pains often out-number our joys, we might find ourselves asking the question, “Why am I still here? Why do I still exist?”
Nouwen offers an answer to that question as well as to the question of how we learn of God’s unconditional love. He asserts that [t]he knowledge of being loved in an unconditional way, before the world presents us with its conditions, cannot come from books, lectures, television programs, or workshops. This spiritual knowledge comes from people who witness to God’s love for us through their words and deeds. These people can be close to us but they can also live far away or may even have lived long ago. Their witness announces the truth of God’s love and calls us to act in accordance with it.
This witness, this acting in accordance with God’s unconditional love is the “great thing” we are all called to do with our lives. Coming to a place where we can receive that knowledge and become aware of that unconditional love is what the journeys of our lives are all about.
Each of us has arrived, living through different experiences, to this moment in our lives. In my experience, God has not brought me into difficulties, nor brought sickness or injury upon my family or myself, or left me to wonder what I am to do. Life does – and those decisions I have made days, weeks, months, or years ago that continue to ripple through my life. We all make those sorts of decisions. I also know from my own journey that God does not waste a single experience – good or bad! If we live our lives with our hearts and eyes open, God will communicate God’s love for us and through us in all of our experiences.
God is in our love, joy, hope, and wisdom.
God is also in our pain, loss, grief, and confusion.
I have the privilege of sitting with an amazing woman of faith. Having always been impressed with her steadfastness, I am often the one who comes away having been ministered to. Many times, though, she asks the question, “Why does God leave me here?” This wonderfully strong, radiant, loving woman wonders why God has left her there. What is she supposed to do now? She misses her husband, her home, the farm, her familiar way of life. She feels adrift. Still searching for a meaning, a purpose for her life now, and to understand what God wants of her in this time.
Could God possibly want some “great thing” from her?
The way this beautiful soul lives her life is her “great thing”! The way she thinks of others first, the joy she brings with her smile and stories, the hope and wisdom she offers to her caregivers struggling in their own lives, the praise she brings to worship, and the humility she brings to it all. I remind her that those are God’s Words for others in her life – and for her.
As Henri Nouwen further addresses spiritual life, he says that we are living a life in which our spirits and the Spirit of God bear a joint witness that we belong to God as God’s beloved children. Romans 8:16. … When we live in communion with God’s Spirit, we can only be witnesses, because wherever we go and whomever we meet, God’s Spirit will manifest itself through us. (Nouwen, We Are the Glory of God taken from Bread for the Journey.)
Whatever actions we take or don’t; whatever words we speak or withhold give full visibility to our relationship with God. As Christians, we are vivid witnesses because God’s Spirit is manifest through us.
My question is why do we make it so difficult. God has created
us to be loving and compassionate – to be the manifestation of God in the World, to the World. Unfortunately, we have the answer before us – sin and separation, brokenness. In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear God’s Word about ego, dishonesty and fear controlling our lives; giving our love and praise to others instead of God. We are a broken people yearning to be whole. In our yearning, we give our most powerful witness. In our stumbles and humility, we offer our greatest testimony.
How? By asking the question, “Why has God left me here?” The very question opens our hearts to a faithful understanding of our relationship with God and God’s love for us. The question bears witness to the hope we have in God that God is with us and that we have purpose. The answer begins with being compassionate with ourselves, forgiving ourselves, and letting go of all of the “great things” we believed we were to do for God, for you cannot offer to others what you do not have.
It is not possible to show compassion for others without having experienced it.
It is not possible to offer the balm of forgiveness to others without having received it.
Being aware of our own needs for love, compassion, and forgiveness keeps our tongues humble and our actions true. (Nouwen, Growing into the Truth We Speak taken from Bread for the Journey.)
We all move forward – there is no reverse/redo/reliving possible – no matter the age, the stage, or the condition. Yet, as long as we have Christ within us, there is no question that we have a purpose on this Earth. As long as we have Christ within us, we know – even as broken people – we can, in humility, witness to the compassion and forgiveness and healing available through Christ.
In Matthew 10:27, we hear God’s Word for us: [w]hat I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetop! Have you heard God’s Word for you in the quiet of the night? Have you proclaimed it from your house? Or better yet, shared it with your neighbor?
Our prayers – even the Psalms – open our hearts to God, to receive God’s Word. Within the lines of Psalm 86, beautifully re-interpreted by Nan C. Merrill in Psalms for Praying, we find, once again, God’s Word to us,
O, that I might radiate your Light forever!
Be present to me and receive my prayer, imbue me with strength, and help me to release each fear. Pour forth your Light into my soul, that all that is hidden in darkness may come forth into awareness. For You, O Beloved, are my Redeemer and my Comforter.
Redeemed and Comforted, strengthened, freed of each little dishonesty, each bit of our pride, radiating light forever — We all have had such an experience at some point in our journeys, such a story to share – quietly, in small intimate ways. What a “great thing” in the eyes of God!
Sitting next to a friend, holding his or her hand and listening to them, bearing their tears, showing compassion and forgiveness is a “great thing” in the eyes of God!
Sharing a hug with a caregiver who’s weary is a “great thing” in the eyes of God.
Hear God’s Word for your life – right now — you radiate the light and love of Christ! You bear witness to Christ’s love and compassion with your every action – small and quiet as well as large and loud.
Wherever you may find yourself, share that Word with whoever may end up on your doorstep by being the beautiful, compassionate, loving soul God has created you to be, that soul that Christ inhabits.
- Psalm 86, Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill
- Witnesses of Love, We are the Glory of God, Growing into the Truth We Speak, Excerpts from Bread for the Journey by Henri J.M. Nouwen ©1997 Harper San Francisco.