23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time | September 8, 2019
So of all the many jobs I have ever worked as an Oblate, it was a year spent washing dishes that contained some of the most important lessons I have ever learned.
See, I lived for a year at a retreat center and part of our responsibilities was making sure that the dishes got washed for retreat groups large and small.
Taking a meal shift would mean staying on top of the hundreds of plates, bowls, and glasses that needed to run through the industrial-sized machine. Not to mention the dozens of pots and pans that would need to be scoured, scrubbed, dried and put away.
So when the calendar came out for the month, the seven of us were supposed to evenly split the shifts. You know, to keep things fair.
But that was never enough for me. I would somehow find myself wandering down to assist even on those shifts when I wasn’t scheduled.
I’d be laboring in that kitchen long past the other guys. Insisting on staying until the last dish was dry or the last spot of the floor mopped.
All the while, growing increasingly resentful of my brother Oblates.
Why were they not noticing all of the extra help I was offering?
Why weren’t they appreciating everything I was doing for them?
Why was it always me that seemed to get screwed?
So one night, I left the kitchen pretty upset. But before I can sulk back to the house, my formator stops me.
“Brian,” he says. “What’s wrong?”
I pour my heart out. Dumping all of my accumulated baggage onto his feet.
Calmly, he heard me out. And then he gave me one of the most important pieces of advice I have ever gotten.
“Remember, Brian, all upset is is simply the result of false expectations.
You expected the guys to notice all the extra work and shower you with appreciation. You want to be the martyr, but only if everyone else notices.
You expect perfection of yourself.
You expect other people to care about the things you care about with the same intensity and passion.
And you’re upset because these expectations do not occur. Shift your expectations and the upset will fade.
Sorry if this is harsh. But it’s true. And I love you enough to tell you the truth. You cannot change your brothers. You can only change yourself.”
Now I would love to say that I walked away from that encounter a new person. But the reality is, heeding his advice has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever faced.
For I’ve come to realize that I have a lot of expectations. And I am still frequently trying to change people, especially those I love.
Which is why I find these readings for this weekend so important.
For in their own way, they echo the wisdom of my formator.
For truly our expectations are not God’s expectations.
Our ways are not God’s ways.
If we are truly going to follow God’s path for our lives, we too will need to abandon so many of those expectations that we treasure.
The expectation that we can keep people safe.
The expectation that we can save people from themselves.
The expectation that we are in control. That we can determine the future. That we can avoid suffering.
The expectation that we can craft the crosses that we choose to carry.
Jesus’ language may sound harsh, but maybe Christ simply loves us enough to tell us the truth.
The truth that so many of our expectations, especially towards those we love, are false expectations and will simply be a source of upset when they are not realized.
The truth that we cannot change other people. Even when we are convinced we know best. Even when we have power over them. Even when their failure to change can cost us everything.
And so we pick up the cross prepared for us. Going forward in the truth of the one who walks beside us, shouldering the load.
Leading us ever onward to the Promised Land.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
May God be Praised.