A friend shared her frustration that her volunteer work for various Church groups was not yielding the fruits she was expecting. A livelihood program was mismanaged; a feeding program proved unsustainable; an organization was falling apart due to infighting. Was she in the right place, doing the right kind of work? Or was God calling her to serve elsewhere, some other way?
Who has not experienced frustration and self-doubt? My kids who used to be so obedient are now unwieldy adolescents beyond control and counsel. My marriage has reached a plateau; we now sadly merely tolerate each other. The company I built through the years is on the brink of collapse due to unforeseen market forces. The son of our laundrywoman whom I sent to school has dropped out and impregnated his girlfriend.
We can find comfort in Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds. Some seeds fell on rocky ground and did not germinate; others were plucked by birds; still others withered. Not all yielded fruit. Only those that fell on good soil did.
And if we take a look at Jesus’ ministry, he was not totally successful. One among the twelve betrayed and sold him for thirty pieces of silver; the others abandoned him upon his arrest. Some of those who welcomed him as messiah upon his entry to Jerusalem a few days later ranted, “Crucify him!” Despite spending all his time and energy serving people, he was condemned and nailed to a cross. In many ways he was a failure. Yet he remained faithful to the end.
Notwithstanding persecution and the fear of execution, he remained faithful to his mission to proclaim God’s Kingdom of inclusive love. Perhaps in the end, St. Teresa of Calcutta is right, what matters most is not success but fidelity.
If our peace of mind and sense of fulfillment is rooted in the outcome of our good deeds and the sacrifices we make for others, we are bound to become miserable. How our children live their lives is beyond our control. What people do with what we bequeath to them is beyond our management.
At times, I think, our misery is our own doing, because we allow our interior well-being to be contingent on others’ fulfillment of our expectations. I will be at peace only if my children become responsible, faithful and God-fearing—in other words, if they become extensions of myself. Unconsciously we try to carve our children into images of ourselves. But more often than not, because they have minds of their own, they are free to choose their own careers, lifestyles and values that may be contrary to ours. To the extent that they do not reflect our image, we become frustrated.
We thus need to let go and recognize their autonomy. We need to recognize the individuality of others, especially co-adults we deal with. We can only express our minds and sentiments and allow others to decide for themselves. And respect their decisions no matter how contrary to our values and convictions.
And so we devote ourselves to providing and caring for our children, whether they grow up into responsible adults or not. We volunteer our services to NGOs and parish organizations whether our contributions bear fruit or not. We offer our blood, sweat and tears to reestablish democratic freedoms whether the next generation nurtures or wastes them. In the end, whether our giving and serving and loving bears fruit or not, what matters more is our fidelity to Jesus, to him who is ever faithful to us.
16 July 2017
Banner background photo courtesy of Harry Sunaryo, SJ