I didn’t post this yesterday, as originally promised, which isn’t even worth mentioning except it makes my point.
Because the baby only napped 20 minutes yesterday, and all of those 20 minutes were spent picking up from lunch and stirring a pot of peach jelly on the stove, I didn’t get to do any daytime writing. Being a stay-at-home mom to three young kids means my schedule is always in flex mode. My life is not my own.
Heck, even my potty breaks are not my own.
Which is why I sometimes wonder how I can have a voice if I can’t even have time to make it heard. I think and write and create all day – in my head. But if you look back through my archives, you’ll see that I don’t consistently get those ideas out into the public eye. (Nor do I get them out into a journal. My blog is my journal these days, for better or worse. I simply don’t have time to do both.)
To be clear, I don’t think my struggle is unique. I know millions of us feel the insignificance of being just a head in the crowd. Our Western culture says that to be significant, we need to do something big, something outstanding. If we aren’t aiming for the top – and getting there – we deserve to be a drone ant on the bottom on the hill, doing mindless work without meaning for the rest of our days.
But. Wait. Stop.
Do you see all the lies in that paragraph?
That is not God’s truth.
Perhaps you know the story of Henri Nouwen. A prominent psychologist and theologian in his native Holland, Nouwen spent the first part of his life achieving. He taught at Notre Dame, Yale and Harvard, wrote prolifically, was a sought-after speaker.
But he came to believe that his success – his bigness – was choking his own spiritual life. For years, he sought a quieter path. Eventually, he settled on L’Arche, a community of homes for the seriously disabled. There, Nouwen lived out the rest of his life, caring for the day-in, day-out needs of people who were barely cognizant of him, much less appreciative.
Philip Yancey, in his book “Soul Survivor,” talks about the time he visited Nouwen at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto.
I once visited Nouwen, sharing lunch with him in his small room. It had a single bed, one bookshelf, and a few pieces of Shaker-style furniture. The walls were unadorned except for a print of a Van Gogh painting and a few religious symbols. A Daybreak staff person served us a bowl of Caesar salad and a loaf of bread. No fax machine, no computer, no Daytimer calendar posted on the wall—in this room, at least, Nouwen had found serenity. The church "industry" seemed very far away.I have been profoundly impacted by Nouwen’s viewpoint. Here was a man who had a voice and who spoke loudly enough to influence the culture. But he chose to lay it down and live a life similar to that of a stay-at-home mom.
After lunch we celebrated a special Eucharist for Adam, the young man Nouwen looked after. With solemnity, but also a twinkle in his eye, Nouwen led the liturgy in honor of Adam's twenty-sixth birthday. Unable to talk, walk, or dress himself, profoundly retarded, Adam gave no sign of comprehension. He seemed to recognize, at least, that his family had come. He drooled throughout the ceremony and grunted loudly a few times.
Later Nouwen told me it took him nearly two hours to prepare Adam each day. Bathing and shaving him, brushing his teeth, combing his hair, guiding his hand as he tried to eat breakfast-these simple, repetitive acts had become for him almost like an hour of meditation.
I must admit I had a fleeting doubt as to whether this was the best use of the busy priest's time. Could not someone else take over the manual chores? When I cautiously broached the subject with Nouwen himself, he informed me that I had completely misinterpreted him. "I am not giving up anything," he insisted. "It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship."
All day Nouwen kept circling back to my question, bringing up various ways he had benefitted from his relationship with Adam. It had been difficult for him at first, he said. Physical touch, affection, and the messiness of caring for an uncoordinated person did not come easily. But he had learned to love Adam, truly to love him. In the process he had learned what it must be like for God to love us—spiritually uncoordinated, retarded, able to respond with what must seem to God like inarticulate grunts and groans. Indeed, working with Adam had taught him the humility and "emptiness" achieved by desert monks only after much discipline.
In doing so, he felt he touched God, and he was satisfied. He learned to love well.
I remind myself of this truth whenever I get discouraged by what seems to be my insignificance. The world measures significance by what we do. God measures significance by who we are.
And when I’m learning to rest in what God has called me to today, when I’m learning to love my children and my husband the way Jesus did, when I’m joyfully content to trust that God sees me even when no one else does, I find my voice. My true voice, the one that speaks wisdom and humility and healing and love.
Maybe someday I will have a megaphone for that voice. Maybe my voice will echo loudly through the canyons of culture. Maybe God will infuse it with his power so that people’s lives will be changed.
Or maybe not. Maybe I will live my days covered in peanut butter and Play-Dough and my voice will echo only in the lives of my family and my friends and in the few words I have time to write on the page.
I am content with either option. (And that’s something I couldn’t have said 10 years ago.) My primary concern is that my voice is changing each day to sound more and more like Jesus.
This is my story, unfolding.