Author’s note: This is a little spiritual writing exercise we decided to undertake as our first article – a letter to our past selves just prior to undertaking a ministry role. Therefore, I decided to write to the Garrett of 2014, right before I took the reins as President of my university Catholic community.
A funny coincidence was that I wrote this letter just prior to serving another year in the committee. Though I am currently serving in a different role, I find the advice I gave myself still rather poignant, and just as hard to put into practice. I guess it’s true that some lessons take a while to internalize! Nevertheless, I hope that if you ever served or are considering serving in any ministry, that you’ll find that this letter resonates with you. God bless!
Congrats on your appointment as President! Perhaps the best way I can start this letter is to affirm you for following God’s will in your life. You saw all the signs, and you made that decision to follow accordingly. Not everyone can say that. But more importantly, that feeling you have that things are gonna spiral out of control real fast? Yeah, about that.. Buckle up, kiddo. You’re in for some rough sailing ahead.
Remember that time in Nox when you went for Prayer Ministry, and the SOWer said that Jesus was calling you on an adventure? Yeah, there’s definitely going to be some of that. But I don’t think you understand what that word means yet. It means trial. It means pain. It means a journey, and not necessarily to exotic locales or swashbuckling battles. Well, okay actually it does mean all that, but this adventure will mostly take place within you. You’re gonna have to discover who you are, the things that you stand for, and it’s going to hurt. It has to. Otherwise, it will be meaningless.
Perhaps one thing I’ve realized that you haven’t is that you get to choose who you want to be. Whether you realize it or not, right now you’re filled with a lot of fears and doubts. Am I good enough? Is my love pure enough? Will I be able to shepherd them all effectively? Whether you realize it now or later, these are the wrong questions to be asking. The truth is, you’re a person constantly in flux, constantly in change. Today you may have your head screwed on right. Tomorrow you might be overcome by fear, or go off chasing an irrational, irrelevant thing. You’re a mish-mash of many, many things, many different aspects: love, hope, fear, anger, regret, confusion, determination, etc. One big mistake you can make is to disregard what you’re feeling right now and say ‘No, I know myself, this isn’t how I’m really like, I should be acting like this..’ You won’t be judging yourself fairly this way – if you’re scared, then call a spade a spade.
And once you realize this about yourself, then you realize that what holds true for you holds true for others as well. You’re pretty good at picking up on the subtle cues that tell you about those around you. No, don’t deny it. Use that to get a sense of where they are in their journey, their spiritual life. But don’t assume you know everything about them! People change, and they can give you false cues that even they believe. Always try to go deeper, to find out what lies beneath the surface.
Speaking of people, I think you’re gonna be in for a bit of an eye-opener. You will find out the limits that people can be pushed to, the point where they will go no further. That people who you thought were reliable were not so reliable after all. That they’re insensitive, and they will hurt you without even realizing that they are doing it. And that will push you to your limits too. You’ll find yourself isolated, just like King Alfred in your favorite poem:
“He beat them back with spear and spade,With desperate dike and wall.With foemen leaning on his shield,And roaring at him when he reeled,And no help came at all.”
So how do you deal with all this? Cheesy as it sounds, you need to center yourself. You need to find the spot where you can anchor yourself and come back to whenever it gets bumpy. And where is this place? Well, the correct question is who is this place. Jesus. Reach out to him, especially in the times when you feel lost and confused. Let Him tell you who you are once again: His. Let that knowledge fill you with courage, to choose the most loving decision even when it’s difficult, even when no one understands the choices you have to make. You have to know that every thing will be alright. Just because you may fumble a bit doesn’t mean it’s the end of CSA, the end of the Catholic Church, the end of the World! Life goes on, and you’ll survive. And you’ll grow stronger too. Despite the dark times and the pain and the loss, know that He has already claimed you for His own, and nothing will ever change that.
This centering of yourself will give you what you need to put the others first. Because in the end that is the heart of service. Again, find out where they are right now in their walk with Jesus, and discover the place they want to be. Then find a way to bridge that gap. Whatever happens, let them know that there is a God who loves them for who they are, and let Him work through you. Good luck.