Self-Made Man?

We need help! We need to follow! And that’s a good thing! If only we could figure that out…

One of the struggles that my generation faces is acknowledging their need to follow others. Millennials are fed the lie that maturity is determined by the extent to which you live your life independently. You’re a real adult once you get your own place, pay your own bills, and figure out how to do your job by yourself. An impossible feat! To have it all figured out without the assistance or wisdom of others, of those who have had more experience than you?! No wonder so few of us millennials are able to “get our lives together.” We need help! We need to follow! And that’s a good thing! If only we could figure that out…

At the NY Fraternity Lent Retreat, Fr. Rich reminded us of the beauty that comes from not being able to solve our problems by ourselves. Through being limited, I find the capacity to learn, to see something I didn’t see before. In failing, I discover the Christ’s affection for me. Just when I thought I understood the extent to which he values my existence, he finds a new way to show me just how precious I am to him. This can’t happen if I give in to the illusion that I am a self-sufficient being that exists in isolation...whose objective in life to to live without depending on anyone other than me.

Fr. Rich emphasized the importance of following those who are given to us in our community. Only in depending on them do I understand who I really am and how to face the “problems” in front of me. Ultimately, I discover Christ’s ever-renewed affection for me which dominates my inclination to feel ashamed for my weaknesses and neediness.
Recently, I’ve grown in a deeper awareness of just how necessary it is to depend on others; not only this, but that my relationships with them are constitutive of my being. I can’t be fully me-the mature, adult Stephen-without depending on them!

Last week, I was feeling sorry for myself because I went into my classes with the intention to “wing it”; I was too tired to prepare my lessons thoroughly, and my students were bored and distracted. As I was getting ready to throw yet another pity party, I decided to call two of my many teacher friends in the movement. Talking to Annie and Christina about what it means to take my students seriously and to be a true authority to them changed the way I went into the classroom the next morning. Did they tell how to do my job? No, not at all. But through depending on them, I was able to do my job with a clearer awareness of what I’m actually looking for. When I was getting frustrated with my messy and inconcise prospectus for my masters thesis, I turned to my friends Rose and Tim to help me not only to narrow down my topic, but also to understand why I’m even writing this thesis in the first place.

In addition to these friends in the movement, I’ve been graced with incredible coworkers and students who also share the desire to help me understand my work and my life as a whole. A motley and imperfect crew of teachers as we may be, I know that when I’m confused about planning lessons, dealing with a particularly troublesome student, or am in need of moral support, there is someone on the faculty that I can turn to. There’s my supervisor, who is always ready to listen to one of my crazy ideas or for help with lesson planning; the librarian, who took me in when I was a bewildered first year teacher who couldn’t tell up from down; the journalism teacher, whose concern about social issues always provokes me to look at what’s happening in the world and to encourage my students to keep abreast of current events; the literature teacher, whose vast knowledge of literature, history, and theology allows her to challenge my young and unrefined theories, lovingly reminding me that I don’t actually know everything; then there are the monks, whose spiritual, practical, and academic wisdom are a constant reservoir of support for me as I continue to find my way through the spiritual and professional mazes of my life.

My students also serve as constant reminders of what I want in front of my work as a teacher. There’s the Pentecostal youth minister, whose fiery devotion to Christ will lead us into either an intense theological debate or a profound discussion about our desire to share our faith with others in the school; the senior whose passion for both Christ and his girlfriend always brings him to my room with questions about what it means to fully give oneself in love; or my Muslim student whose fascination with culture, beauty, and religion awakens me to my need to follow that which fascinates me and enter into each day with an open curiosity to reality.

The fact that all of these people have been given to me to follow is a sign that of how much I am loved. Following them breaks through the illusion that I can be a “self-made man,” and reminds me that I am a man whose life was given and is sustained by the love of Another. So much for figuring it out all by myself… The sooner millennials figure out that you can’t do it by yourself, the sooner you will discover what true maturity looks like!