Facing Failure: A Missionary's Conversion to God's Love
New Year’s Resolutions always fill us with feelings of hope and optimism. We have visions of the perfect life that we will enjoy, just as long as we break a few bad habits and avoid making mistakes. However, many of us find ourselves breaking our resolutions before the month of January is even over. It doesn't take much for us to realize that we are not perfect, and allow the feeling of failure to take over. If that sounds familiar, this reflection from former Salesian Lay Missioner Charlene Becicka, is for you!
They say it's impossible to live without failure, but to be honest, my young life has been pretty smooth sailing. I have faced challenges (notably, parallel parking, but I try not to dwell on that). I have been so richly blessed, though, that I have not faced many failures. Naturally, when I discerned a call to mission work, I expected my year of service to be the same way.
In the fall of 2013, I departed for Cochabamba, Bolivia where I would spend a year serving as a missionary in a girls' orphanage as a Salesian Lay Missioner. Before leaving, I wrote a personal mission statement: to see Jesus in the girls of the orphanage and to love them with the love of our Blessed Mother, Mary. My mission was incredibly simple, I just greatly underestimated how difficult it would be. I imagined myself as a perfect missionary: calm, patient, loving...but the reality of caring for and ministering to a large group of girls and young women presented me with many unforseen challenges. There were many times when I lost my patience, miscommunicated, and failed to reflect the love of the Blessed Mother to the girls.
Of course, my mission work was also filled with many joys, but after swallowing the pill of perfectionism our culture so freely distributes, at times I was unable to appreciate the beautiful moments because I was wallowing in my mistakes. Feelings of inadequacy caused me to doubt that I had even correctly discerned God's call in my life. I think the greatest lesson God has prepared for me was how to face my failures with an attitude of Christian charity.
The feast of Saints Peter and Paul in June, nine months into my mission, prompted me to reflect on Peter's failure to follow Christ: he was the leader of the disciples and at the last supper told Jesus, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death," (Luke 22:33) but only hours later fell asleep while Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemene and later Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times!
Like Peter, I answered my call to mission with a sense of pride, promising God that I would be a perfect missionary and focusing on my actions, rather than His. And just like Peter did, I had my share of times when I denied Christ rather than deny myself. And just like Peter must have felt, I spent a long time on mission feeling embarrassed by my failure as a disciple of Christ. But Christ doesn't look at Peter's failures. Rather, He sees his potential and grants him the grace to become the first pope, the Rock of the Church! In laying down his pride and assuring Christ of his love for Him, Peter experienced a radical conversion to the action of God's will. This example of redemption has been a guide for me in how to acknowledge and overcome my failures: through the forgiveness and grace of God.
As a missionary in Bolivia, I learned that all vocations propose challenges and to accept my failures, be humbled by them, and offer them back to God. That's right: God wants all of me (and you too, by the way) and He, better than anyone else, knows my failures. Every. Single. One. And He knew them before He died on the cross, but He still paid for them all. He called me to mission as a Salesian Lay Missioner knowing that I wouldn't be perfect, but that, like Peter, He could inspire me with His grace to do good work at the Orphanage. Because, after all, service isn't about ME...it's about HIM. As St. Pope John Paul II reminds us, "We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son."
Although I recognize that I failed many times to live up to my mission, my year as a Salesian Lay Missioner was certainly not a failure. I learned a lot about myself, fell deeper in love with Christ, and I did see Jesus in the beautiful girls and young women of Hogar Maria Auxiliadora. And maybe someday, by the grace of God, I will even learn to parallel park.