The following reflection is the WINNER of Catholic Volunteer Network’s annual Volunteer Story & Photo Contest and is now featured as the cover story of the 2020 edition of RESPONSE. Each year, we ask our member programs and their volunteers to submit stories and photos of their daily life to share and celebrate their experiences of faith-based service.
Choose Service Anyway
By Laura Camarata, Farm of the Child
This reflection is modeled after Dr. Kent M. Keith’s “Paradoxical Commandments,” often mistakenly attributed to St. Teresa of Calcutta.
People will tell you that service work is not a practical choice for someone in your position.
Choose service anyway.
You yourself may not understand all of your reasons for committing to this work.
Commit to it anyway.
Others may place you on a pedestal for making this decision that sets you apart.
Kindly sidestep the pedestal, but make the decision anyway.
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking of this as not your “real life,” but rather a “year or two of service.”
Please, think of it as your “real life” anyway; it will change more than you’d expect.
Family and friends “back home” will not understand all the realities of your experience.
Strive to include them anyway.
Investing in your community will take time and energy and vulnerability.
Invest in them anyway.
Attending community nights and events may seem more taxing some days than others.
Fulfill your obligation to your community anyway.
If you take care of your sick roommate, you may be the next one to catch the 24-hour bug.
Take care of him anyway.
Your community members won’t always do their chores, and it will make you reticent to do your own.
Do your chore anyway; it’s a concrete way of saying, “I’m here. I’m committed. I’m part of this community.”
If you hold your community member in her moment of exhaustion and desolation, you may have nothing to say to her when she confesses, “I just want to go home.”
Hold her anyway.
You may find that living in community reveals all your weaknesses, even the ones you didn’t know about.
Live in community – and be weak – anyway.
Being humbled, and told your way is not the only way, is not fun.
Let yourself be humbled anyway.
Embracing a simple lifestyle could mean your hard days just became that much harder.
Embrace simplicity anyway.
If you espouse yourself not only to “simple living,” but also to simplicity of intention and purity of heart, you may discover you are much more self-seeking than you thought.
Pursue purity of heart anyway.
Self-denial is unromantic, counter-cultural, and requires practices.
Practice dying to yourself anyway.
When you admit you’re wrong and ask for forgiveness, you will feel vulnerable and awkward.
Apologize and ask for forgiveness anyway.
Mercy will almost always be easier to summon when it is for another.
Please, be merciful with yourself anyway.
Those small but courageous acts of love you do may go unnoticed by all but God.
Make small, courageous acts of love anyway.
Silence has the potential to reveal your heart’s deepest loneliness and unfulfilled desires.
Cultivate time for silence anyway.
Daily prayer may seem humdrum, futile, or arid.
Engage in daily conversation with God anyway.
When you encounter new ways of prayer, you may find them too childish, too highbrow, or empty.
Encounter new ways to pray anyway.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone will cause you to doubt yourself and seek frantically for shelter.
Step outside of your comfort zone anyway.
Asking for help is difficult and will make you feel small.
Ask for help anyway.
Your actual “work” will probably be different than you expected, which can cause disappointment, frustration, or fear.
Embrace what is laid before you anyway.
Service is messy, and you’ll want to protest, “But this isn’t my job!” at least once a day.
Barring what is unhealthy for you, accept the mess and do the job to the best of your ability anyway.
Your grand ideas may be brushed aside as unrealistic or improbable.
Humbly adjust your expectations when necessary, but continue to have grand ideas anyway.
Accompanying those you serve may be exhausting, dirty, or thankless; some days it may even be joyless.
Walk beside them anyway.
Impatience may cause you to grow tired of “sowing seeds” and long to see the actualized fruit of your efforts.
Trust in the slow work of God anyway.
Your privilege may cause you to compare your cross with those of whom you serve.
Take up your cross anyway; for although they may differ, all crosses carry us toward redemption.
You will feel pressure to be constantly working in the names of justice and charity, and rest will seem unimportant or selfish.
Please, friend, rest anyway.
The cross will bring you to your knees. There, you will experience humiliation, despair, isolation, helplessness, confusion, and deep pain.
Embrace the cross anyway, for it is also your salvation.
Encountering deep suffering may cause you to doubt God’s existence.
Choose belief in God anyway.
Some days, hope may seem impossible, illogical, or simply too elusive to grasp.
Hope in redemption and resurrection anyway; above all, know that you mustn’t lose hope.
Dancing in the rain may seem foolish when you have spent the day alongside such brokenness and injustice.
Please, oh please, dance in the rain anyway.
When faced with challenge, you, like Moses, may plead with God that he has the wrong person, that you are unqualified and wholly too small for the job.
But I beg you, to like Moses, say “yes” to God anyway; he will provide what you cannot.
You will likely feel unworthy of all the blessings you are sure to receive along your journey.
Receive blessings anyway.
And once all has past, once all has been, you will probably end this journey with loose ends, with more questions than answers, and with a heart at once surprised, pleased, and troubled that it has learned to call another place and people “home,” a home you now must leave.
Take this journey anyway; for, oh, I assure you that your mind, your heart, your very breath will be fuller and richer for it, deepened and burnished in places where before there was only flat unknowingness.
You have been warned, friend: choosing service will change your life.
Choose service anyway.
Catholic Volunteer Network is proud to feature Laura’s story in the brand new edition of RESPONSE, available here! Thank you to Laura and to all the volunteers in our network who submitted their own stories of service.
You can read these stories over the next few months as we publish them right here on the Catholic Volunteer Network blog.