By Ana Lopez
Since I started my graduate program three years ago I noticed that people started to see me differently. When I mentioned that I was studying theology and learning how to minister to God’s people, suddenly a shift would take place in the person, followed by a story of why they don’t go to church anymore or a request for me to pray for them. As if pursuing a Masters in Divinity meant that was I holier or closer to God. At first I would react quickly saying “I am just like you,” or “I am merely a curious person who really likes to talk about God.” Yet over time that sense of being different began to influence my own self-image. If people see me this way then I should work hard to be a holy person of faith.
Whatever that means!
The temptation to be perfect began to lurk within me. If I am dedicating myself to serve God’s people then I should be a role model in the faith. I should strive to be a person of virtue so that I can serve others. Lent, then, is the time when I dedicated myself to reform; I made my list of areas where I needed to change and a plan on how to change them. I will give up this, and I will do more of that.
And I am a big dreamer so I set the bar high.
I planned to fast from my cell phone and start writing more letters, fast from leisure time to intentional prayer each morning for an hour. After a few days this proved very hard when balancing my studies, work, friends, and self-care. I found myself getting up early to make sure I prayed and getting on with my day, rather than focusing on what I am actually talking to Jesus about. I felt like I had failed. Jesus must have been disappointed in me.
See the call to holiness is one that we all share and one that Jesus invites us to. It is not a requirement for the believer, but an invitation into relationship with the one who makes us whole. In the readings today Jesus is challenging the people to see that their faith is lacking, not because they are not following him, but because they don’t believe in him.
They lost sight of who they place their hope in.
That’s the thing about my lists, the more I focus on checking each action off my list the less I focus on who I am trying to get closer to. The people in the readings know about Moses and they have heard about Jesus, but they miss they point when they don’t take time to get to know who Jesus is. I miss the point when I focus on checking off my list instead of spending time with Jesus and deepening my relationship with him through prayer. It is difficult to place our hope in someone we don’t know.
So this Lent I am focusing on spending time in getting to know Jesus instead of trying to maintain an image that I let others project onto me. It doesn’t mean I have stopped striving for virtue, that is good and important, but it means that I have decided to focus on the quality of my striving. I am choosing to focus on how Jesus walks with me in my daily living, on how Jesus helps me overcome temptation by silencing the "shoulds" and helping me embrace where I am.
I am learning how Jesus encourages me to keep going one day at a time.
This change has allowed me to experience mercy in a sweet and gentle way, and to see Jesus as a friend that knows me intimately instead of a standard that I attempt to match. See I was wrong in thinking that holiness was perfection, for only God is perfect. Holiness, it turns out, is being more like Jesus in our daily, ordinary lives. Whether that makes me a model to follow is irrelevant, what matters is that I am on the way, like the people in today’s readings, stumbling at times and racing often, but I keep going. I know Jesus rejoices in that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ana is a California girl who loves a good book and fair cup of coffee. She is currently pursuing a Master's in Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley where she has fallen in love with Ignatian Spirituality. Her faith and her family are the foundations of her life on, and what she cannot live without. If you don't find her breaking bread with friends, you can find her in the library studying for her comprehensive exams.