Work in Progress

Near the major intersection southeast of our home, there is a small sign that reads, “obra en proceso.”  Work in progress.

The sign is quite understated given the scope of the project.  One day, we found the entire intersection had been shut down and traffic patterns rerouted.  The traffic lights were gone, and an enormous hole had been dug.  For months, workers have built a major infrastructure project that will clear congestion near the US-Mexico border.  The project will take between a year or two to complete.

In the context of our interior lives, it takes courage to undergo major change, either personally or professionally.  It is far easier to live in the untruth that we are self-sufficient, but doing so is like relying on old infrastructure.  

Blessed are those who have the guts to declare themselves a work in progress.  They will defy the Four Horsemen of Fixed Mindset.  

Your Conflicts

About a year into my time as a lay volunteer in Uganda, I found myself in the middle of a number of conflicts that I had not anticipated. I was confused and sad, unsure of how to proceed.

I wrote a rather conflicted email to the director of our program, the remarkable Fr. Tom Smith, CSC, who was then living in the United States. In retrospect, I was, in that email, trying to evade my responsibility in the situation. I was trying to hand Tom my problems.

Fr. Tom, in his characteristically thoughtful wisdom, handed them right back. (The subject line of his response was aptly named “Your Conflicts.”) He affirmed the goodness of all involved and helped me see the situation in a fuller context, but let me know that I was now a part of the conflict and it was up to me to act, in love, toward a resolution.

I have often considered the kind justice of his response. I was invited to stop the externalization of blame and the evasion of responsibility. Once I accepted the ground that I was on, I was freed to work generously toward a solution.

More Than God Requires

I once had a spiritual director tell me the following. 

“You know… It is possible to do more than God requires, and less than God desires.”

While infuriatingly vague, the maxim has stuck with me and functions to pose the following productive question.

What, in fact, does God desire?  

More than we can comprehend, surely, but perhaps essentially this: that we know how profoundly we are loved.

Truly knowing oneself as loved by God changes everything, and enables clearer vision of what, then, God requires.

The Retreat House, in Winter

Before we had kids, I would make a silent retreat every summer at the guest house on the campus of St. Mary’s College in South Bend.  

My favorite room in which to sit, read, and pray was a thin room that wrapped around the south wall of the house.  On the second floor and with giant windows, the room welcomes visitors right in the trees, into a world of leaves and light.  The depth of field in the summer months is about forty feet, obscured by vegetation.  

After a few years of summer retreats, I then spent one winter weekend there.  The view from the room was completely different.  The leaves were gone.  The sun was filtered through many clouds.  And, most strikingly, the depth of field was much greater.  I could see over a mile now, through the leafless trees, all the way down to the river.  

Winter, then, afforded an enhanced perspective.

The “winters” of life, moments of loss, conflict, or pain, can be a challenge, sometimes of uninterpretable ruthlessness.  Only with good company, I think, can we navigate these winters, and tune into the unique perspective that they offer, the expanded depth of field.  This transformed vision can fuel a life of remarkable compassion.