I’m grateful for a blog prompt today. That prompt is: “At this season of All Saints’ and All Souls, write about someone who is a saint in your life…someone you may never have considered as such before.”
“They’re your teachers,” she said. She was my mentor. She still is. She’s definitely a saint– a huge one in my life. But I’ve considered her so before. So I want to think about the “them.” The “they” in her quote. She was speaking about those people who challenge us most, those who make us want to pull our hair out, those whom we vent about when we walk in the door, those over whom we’ve cried. I believe she went on to say “It’s from them that we really learn how to love.”
I once went to a fabulous concert for peace… it was during the build up to the second war in Iraq… and at that concert a marvelous folk singer shared some wisdom gained from friends in recovery. I believe it was shared in humor, in an attempt to diffuse some of the rage and negative energy being directed towards the president at the time, by the crowd in that room, at least. He said he learned many years ago that if there is someone who really irritates you, someone you cannot abide, someone utterly despicable to you– this is what you should do. You should take a pencil and paper and write his or her name at the top of the page. Then underneath that name you should write down EVERYTHING you can possibly think of that you cannot stand about that person. Make sure the list is exhaustive. Leave nothing off. Get it all out. When you’re absolutely sure the list is complete, you then are to erase the name at the top of the page– and replace it with your own.
That got a laugh– then a gulp, at least from me.
It reminded me of the wisdom provided by my spiritual accompanier when I was an assistant in L’Arche. Living life in intentional community gives one all sorts of opportunity to deal with challenging relationships. People. Sigh. My spiritual accompanier was always telling me that if someone scared me, bothered me, irritated me– it was probably because they were in some way very much like me. Usually I saw his point eventually. Sometimes it was harder to see.
But as I have aged, it is easier and easier to see that that which I can’t abide in other people… is usually something I can’t abide in myself. Sure, sometimes the challenging people seem to be my polar opposites… but something about them, is like me, like parts of me I don’t especially like. And it is painful to look in the mirror that their very existence holds up to me.
So, I think on this point she was dead right. “They” are our teachers. “They” do teach us how to love– to love neighbor and self. And I have come to believe that growing in love of neighbor and self is the only way we have to grow in love of God. The more we love, the more we realize we are loved. The more we hang in there with the people we cannot abide, the more opportunity we have to heal the parts of ourselves that we’re sure are unlovable. The more we learn to love– everybody– the closer we draw to God.
On this All Saints Day then, I celebrate these saints– those in the body of Christ who drive me up a wall. My best teachers… my best goads to sanctification… my best hope for growth on this earth.
I may ask you to remind me of this… often. Thanks.