Tag Archives: Jean Vanier

Be Reciprocal Givers and Receivers

I totally understand how easy it is to be the giver rather than the receiver.  When you are the receiver, there are questions that arise like, “What’s the intent of this gift?”  “How do I repay this gift?”  “How am I worthy of this gift?”  Those are probably only some questions that pop up.

Often, receivers are unwilling, right?  “No, don’t get me anything for my birthday, just come hang out.”  Or, “Oh, you really didn’t have to give this to me!  Please (as the receiver hands back the gift), this is too much!”  We in the United States, as far as I know, are so reluctant to be a receiver.  Most of us would rather give.

Would you ponder this with me, and admit that part of the pleasure of giving is that the giver is in control, and therefore it’s hard to surrender to become a receiver?

This aspect of generosity is something that Jean Vanier has advocated against, along with other famous people who dedicate their life to charity, such as St. Vincent de Paul, and Mother Teresa.  They advocated that the givers need to become the receivers, otherwise the givers hold a control over those whom they give to, and their Christian charity becomes tainted with a type of domination.

I notice this type of domination all the time in my field of care giving.  I am the one who has so much “control” in a situation when helping my clients with disabilities.  I am in control how food will taste if I cook it, and I am in control of how clean a place will look after I leave.  I am in control of what activities I make time for, and I am also in control of the way an activity is done.

I was working for a few days with an older couple.  Let’s call them Larry and Susan.  Larry was the main client who needed the most assistance, but since Susan also needed some assistance as well, I was expected to help both of them.  Larry and Susan had issues with balance and movement of all their joints.  They were unable to do simple things such as tie their shoes.  They were both at risk of falling down at any time, so the caregiver would have to watch their movements closely.

I was told that they needed to do a shower at least 3 times a week.  Larry was much more accepting of assistance than Susan was.  When it came time for showers, Larry was ok to be the first one, and would obey my simple commands like, “Ok, let’s stand on the count of 3.”  Susan, on the other hand, was not so keen on the shower.  I let her postpone the shower day, but when it came to the time itself, she was still not happy about the thought.  I paused, and I waited for her to explain why she wasn’t interested in the shower.  “I just don’t know what I’m doing.”

And there it was.  Fear showed its ugly face.  She was as unfamiliar with the shower routine as I was since I just began working in her home a day before this situation.  Susan didn’t want to be a receiver of my offer for a warm and relaxing shower.  She’d rather skip it and stay away from risk.  She was not being a giver: I needed her trust, and it was not being given to me.

After some gentle persuasion, and upbeat promises like, “I promise it will be warm, and it will be quick,” she began to walk over to the shower.  But even when she got into the bathroom, she started whimpering, like a scared child; the shower was no longer a comforting activity for her in her old age.  “I’m going to fall!”  She made more distressed noises, and I respected her with silence.  I moved slowly and I talked to her with an upbeat and reassuring voice in hopes of being able to complete the shower routine.

holdinghands elder youngerSusan ultimately gave me her trust.  She was the giver as much as I was.  Susan allowed herself to be vulnerable and surrender one of her most precious gifts: her trust.

I let that situation stay with me as a powerful lesson of surrender.  There’s too many times I have not wanted to surrender: listening to positive critique, giving trust to a stranger asking for money, forgiving a driver who doesn’t let me switch lanes.  I, like so many people, want to demand justice and be in total control of the situation, or at least fight for control.  Here on the opposite end was Susan, giving up control and security to a stranger who promised to honor her gift of trust.  It seemed that the best way to accept the gift was to not think little of it, but instead receive it with astonishment and gentleness.  As much as I was going to give her the best quality of care, I also had to become a mindful receiver of this woman’s vulnerability.

If I can find those times of silence and reflection, I can unpack these delicate and fleeting moments that I encounter with people that I care for.  This Lenten season, let’s practice reciprocal giving, and reciprocal surrender.

This Anniversary Marks Growth, Not Pain

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Forgiveness

To look forward, to want life, means we have to be willing to look backwards and become more conscious of all those who have hurt us, all that is broken in us and that has brought us inner deaths, hurts that we may have hidden and stifled. It means that we acknowledge the story of our origins, of our own lives, see and accept our brokenness and the times we also have hurt others. When we have accepted who we are and what we need in order to grow in compassion and peacemaking, we can move forward to give life. To forgive is a gift of God that permits us to let go of our past hurts.

Jean Vanier, Finding Peace, page 47-48
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About two years ago, I broke up with my fiancée.  It took a day of arguing, crying, yelling, loneliness, and confusion to really make the breakup final.  One day she was in my life as no one else was or had been; the next day she was out.  I was sad we couldn’t work things out, but relieved at my decision, and felt strong about sticking to the course.  Our relationship was toxic and I had to let myself go from her.

Today I am more mature and definitely happy.  But that quote I have added as a beginning to this reflection really dives into a point I don’t hear of often.  To get real results with forgiveness is not necessarily to go looking for a scenario where a person can obtain closure.  In fact, that’s downright selfish.  My idea of closure may be drastically different from my ex-fiancée’s idea of closure.

Instead of seeking closure from her, I sought answers within my own actions.  I sought to lay out all the wrongs I did against her both out of anger and naiveté.  Afterall, relationships are not one-way occurrences. If it was toxic, I had some part of making it toxic.  I sought counseling.  I read and reflected.  I prayed for myself.  I allowed myself to fall in love again, and get hurt; to start over again, and to be vulnerable again.

I prayed for her almost every day, and then every other day, and then after four or five months, I prayed for her on occasion.  I recognized that I was not helping the healing process for myself if I frequently reviewed my past with her.  I had to trust that she was being taken care of and being prayed for by others.

Remember Jean Vanier said to acknowledge our stories?  I’m acknowledging that even after a harsh break-up, and going to counseling, I still messed up with other brand new relationships. Yet, I have not quit believing that I can do better in my relationships, and especially in dating.  I have gotten back up, and take all events as learning experiences.

Forgiveness is coming to an acceptance of what is broken and letting go of regret or resentment.  Moving on does not meaning the brokenness is gone.  It means acknowledging our scars and walking forward with them, not shying away from our needs.  One of my major needs has been to be consistent in my prayer life, and attend prayer with a community, regardless if I feel I “get something out of it.”  The gift has been in the stability rather than in small moments of joy or peace, which do occur, but definitely not every time.

It really did take double the amount of time I was dating my ex-fiancée to move into a healthy mindset about my relationship with her.  I have not spoken to her for a very long time, nor do I intend do.  But if I did run into her, I pray that I would be nothing less than sincerely courteous to her and able to wish her well, without sounding condescending.

My prayer for you, the reader, is that you too will find quiet time to look into your past hurts and scars, and then with much hopeful resolve, ask God to open your heart to that gift of forgiveness so that you can be a light and companion to others as they wrestle with their own brokenness.

 

Loneliness vs Solitude

The reflection below is worthy of your pondering. It speaks about the fact that there is a spiritual battle within us that can make us feel lonely. Loneliness is negative and un-useful. Solitude is finding a place within ourselves to be at peace. It’s usually found in quiet spaces, but a sense of solitude can also come up when you realize that what you do to connect with God is rare and not often promoted or announced. There is solitude in knowing that your relationship with God is hard to explain to others. It should give you peace and a sense that you are particularly special…there is only one of YOU, you are not replicated and have never been or will be replicated.

May you seek time to increase solitude in your life so that you have the spiritual energy to fight off the temptation of loneliness. May your solitude increase your awareness of your connection to this world and promote a compassionate response to all whom you meet.

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Friday 12 April 2013

Loneliness seems to be an essentially human experience. It is not just about being alone. Loneliness is not the same thing as solitude. We can be alone yet happy, because we know that we are part of a family, a community, even the universe itself. Loneliness is a feeling of not being part of anything, of being cut off. It is a feeling of being unworthy, of not being able to cope in the face of a universe that seem to work against us. Loneliness is a feeling of being guilty. Of what? Of existing? Of being judged? By whom? We do not know. Loneliness is a taste of death.

– Jean Vanier, Becoming Human, p. 33

Who is Jean Vanier?

What We Feed Will Grow

A key theological point I am learning through l’Arche is about accepting the “shadow-side” of my Self.  Jean Vanier and Henri Nouwen, two great theologians from l’Arche, speak about our shadow-side as being not “apart” from us, but “a part” of us.  It is never going to go away, and the more we repress it, the more it is bound to explode.  Repression of our shadow is practically the same as “feeding it.”

I ran into the comic strip below from my brother who has always shared great stuff with me.  The story tells everything you need to know about how to handle your shadow side.

Jean recommended that we not feed the shadow, but befriend the shadow so that when others do wrong to us, we will not react with aggression or despair, but will hold a sense of empathy for that wrongdoer.  Knowing how to forgive is also knowing the “bad wolf” of our own, and realizing that the person who wronged you has ultimately a harder battle…within their Self their shadow is winning, and it is not allowing them to become the best person they can be.  And that’s a sad state of being.  So pray for them, and forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

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