During the Sunday afternoon portion of our Midyear Retreat, Kevin Regan challenged us with the words “God is Love, but we have to open ourselves up to being vulnerable to God’s love. So often we’re scared of that, but He’s not something that’s going to harm us or cause us pain.” While this thought caused me to stop and pause for just a moment, it quickly became one of many, drowned in the sea of profound quotes and wisdom that came forth during the weekend retreat. It wasn’t until I was standing at the airport discussing the impact of the weekend that this quote came up again as one that had struck not just me but each person in the group. This time, however, it didn’t fade back into the background as it had once before. In fact, I spent a good deal of the flight back to Tulsa with it running through my mind, trying to dig deeper into these words and pull them apart. Even as I sat down the next day to begin working on this blog post, the first thoughts that came to mind revolved around this very idea.
I firmly believe the words echoed for me, taking root somewhere deep within, because they were true. If this was the case, though, then why was I afraid to open myself up to God’s love? What was standing between me and something so wonderful? As these thoughts mingled with my reflection on my time as a Lasallian Volunteer and the experience of the Midyear Retreat, an answer slowly began to take shape. God’s love may not be painful or mean to cause us harm, but there are times where it seems like it may not be far off. God’s love is not a love that calls us to be comfortable, a fact that we see revealed many times over in the holy men and women we look up to for guidance. Even St. John Baptist de La Salle, the Founder himself, was called to give up the comforts of his financial and social status in order to better serve his fellow teachers and their students. While it may not be something to be afraid of, God’s love is something that challenges us to grow and change in ways that we’ve never imagined and in ways that, at times, seem to push us near our breaking points and beyond. It is something that calls us to do more and be better than we are, and for that reason it can be very difficult to allow ourselves to be vulnerable to it moving within us.
If anything could have made the difficulties of making myself vulnerable to God’s love clear, it was in the service I was doing as an LV. As much as giving yourself to a year (or two, in my case) of service was making myself vulnerable, I didn’t give the individual pieces that would make up this challenge the amount of thought that I probably should have. Surely giving myself over was enough, right? The fact that I was moving halfway across the country to a city I’d never been to, was beginning my first year as a teacher (which I’d been told would be hard and I would cry), and was doing all of this while living simply seemed like prime examples of making myself vulnerable. These challenges, however, I found myself comfortable with facing (or so I thought), but this is not a story of comfort.
I have experienced God’s love in many ways since I became an LV, but these moments have come just as often in the challenges and tough moments as they have in those that are bright and beautiful. Some days God’s love would show itself in a breakthrough, like when a student who had previously turned in no work to me in a semester would come to me with even a single Book Club journal or when another gifted me a drawing she had done for me because she knew of my love of Captain America. These moments, however, also come in much more frustrating scenarios. They come in the moments when I have to take my class outside to practice lining up for the third time that period because they can’t come in quietly. They come, again, in the moments when a student tells me that I don’t understand them, or when students have called me out on my numerous shortcomings as a first and second-year educator. Perhaps, most strikingly, these moments come in the casual glimpses into the challenges that are part of our students’ lives- it happens in talks on the bus on the way to a field trip, or in the brief chats before or after study hall begins each day. It is in each of these small pieces of time, often only just a few seconds or a few minutes at most, that I am exposed to God’s love and asked to be vulnerable.
Why these moments? Admittedly, most of these moments don’t leave me with any sort of positive feeling when they initially spring up. Frustration, anger, and heartbreak often feel like far better descriptions of what goes through my head when a student talks back or fills me in on their most recent trip to the hospital to translate grim details for a family member. It is in these moments, however, that I understand that God’s love is not a comfortable love. It is in these short pieces of time that I have found myself being called to open myself and become vulnerable to God’s love through and for my students. I am asked to share in pain, suffering, frustration, and triumph. In the unpleasant moments, however, I am called to be more patient, more understanding, and more kind- to be a face of love to my kids at the end of the day even if there have been more moments of frustration. It is God’s love that allows me to see my kids as more than the behavior issues, the frustrations, and the challenges- which allows me to hit the “reset” button each day at the end of class, remind them I care, and to start the next day on a fresh note. This is difficult, sometimes feeling impossible, but I think it is in these moments I am most often reminded of how much I need to open myself up to God’s love. It is only when we do this, become truly vulnerable, that we can be images of it to our students in turn.
Heather Marsh is a second year LV serving at San Miguel School in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a 2015 graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California.