I’ve started taking a spiritual writing class. It must be good because it’s already spurred a million blog ideas and an existential crisis with just one assignment: why am I here?
Not why-do-people-exist or what-is-the-meaning-of-life, but why am I HERE at this juncture in my life. At this computer in this house with these roommates waiting to drive this freeway into this job to do these tasks.
One answer is this:
February 2006, San Jose, Costa Rica
In class I usually sat in the back, jammed against my neighbor in the filled-to-capacity classroom. There were strange wooden pillars inconveniently placed throughout the room, forcing us to cram together in clumps. Our professor, Don Mike, would pace back and forth like a lion waiting to go in for the kill. His sporadic mumblings sounded like growls and soon he would be roaring. My jaw would clench as my heart pounded. He would reduce my beliefs and upbringing to egocentric self-validation. A means of exclusion. Judgment. My faith was offensive, a stench in the nostrils of the Almighty God. A darkened city on a hill. The tasteless salt of the earth. The hypocritical light of the world. The hair on my arms would stand up and it would feel like I’d swallowed a car battery. If anyone, he’d be the one to know when the church was being ineffective; he used to be a Catholic priest.
He would be panting by now; his gruff voice would crack as he condemned American Christianity and everything it stands for. I felt personally attacked as he recounted the horrors of conquest-driven, smallpox-bearing missionaries and money scamming “Gospel of Wealth” televangelists. The blood of every person killed or exploited in the name of God since the dawn of time would stick in the crevices of my guilty hands.
By this point, the pulsating vein in the middle of his scrunched forehead looked ready to burst. I would forget that he coined himself a “recovering Catholic.” I would forget that he did not hold a monopoly on truth. And while I hated him and everything he was saying, I still began to believe that maybe I was the enemy.
That’s part of it. That’s part of why I’m here. Writing this blog. Working at this nonprofit that serves the rural poor. Thinking these thoughts.
It’s the why of a life built around overcoming a stigma that my faith is self-serving, self-fulfilling, self-consuming. It’s a why of a life working to not be the world’s enemy, the poor’s enemy, my own enemy.
It’s not the whole why and it’s not the whole story. But it’s a part. It’s not the best part or the most redeeming part or healthy part.
I’m reminded of a quote by Henri Nouwen (honestly, when am I not?) in Compassion:
“Action as the way of the compassionate life is a difficult discipline precisely because we are so in need of recognition and acceptance… But even setting up a relief program, feeding the hungry, and assisting the sick could be more an expression of our own need than of God’s call.
But let us not be too moralistic about it: We can never claim pure motives, and it is better to act with and for those who suffer than to wait until we have our own needs completely under control.”
Today, HERE, I am grateful to drive into a job that acts with and for those who suffer and for a God that is using my needs, my why’s, my unclean motives, to accomplish His call.