Best of Daily Reflections: Limitations: Being vs. Doing
“…you are no longer a slave but God’s own child...through Christ.”
In the mid-1980’s, Henri Nouwen, famous author, psychologist and priest, left Harvard and went to live at L’Arche in Toronto, a community for the profoundly disabled. His first assignment was to provide primary care for a young man named Adam who could literally do…nothing. He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t toilet himself, he couldn’t reach out, he couldn’t debate or counsel or instruct. He couldn’t do much with his hands except wave them aimlessly when he was agitated or excited and feed himself just a little at dinner time. Adam spent most of his time in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being supported and even at the day activity center of L’Arche, he spent hours simply doing what he could do…which was nothing. Adam just was. Wherever he was, all Adam could do was “be.”
Talk about limitations.
Yet, Nouwen describes Adam as being the person who, more than anyone else in his entire life, drew him closer to his true self and to the unconditional love of Jesus. In his book, “Adam”, Nouwen writes:
“While I, the so-called ‘normal’ person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons. He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness, but given for my transformation. While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’
Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.”
Nouwen followed with these profound words, comparing Adam’s life with Jesus:
“The great mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action…not by what he did but by what was done to him, not by his own decision but by other people’s decisions concerning him. It was when he was dying on the cross that he cried out, ‘It is fulfilled.’”
Our days on the job tend to be filled with so many lists, demands and expectations, so much competition with myself and others, so many feelings of inadequacy and failure if I don’t produce, if I don’t just do it. It’s exhausting, depressing and never-ending. And, if Nouwen is right about the impact of Adam and even Jesus, my striving might also be ineffective.
It's true Adam’s limitations would keep him from performing tasks we accomplish each day. But, could Adam's limitations teach us something about working with our own? I’m wondering if our first step, like Adam, is to more deeply embrace the power of being, recognizing that the greatest gift we give our coworkers and our vocations is who we are. Could it be that our best “doings” on the job will flow most freely and naturally out of us simply being our truest selves?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: On the job, do you think of yourself more as a human being or a human “doing”? How might your effectiveness on the job change if you began to relax, stop trying so hard to “win” and let your work flow from your being? What needs to heal inside you in order for you to more freely offer your true self to your work?
PRAYER: Father, I am amazed that the most productive moment in Jesus’ life was not when He was doing anything…but when something was being done to Him on the cross. His best doing truly came out of Him simply being. Help me, Father, to follow Him. Amen.
P.S. from Mark: Kevin Butcher is the Senior Pastor of Hope Community Church in Detroit, Michigan. He is passionate about helping believers live in authentic community—across racial, socioeconomic and all lines of division—learning to truly love one another in the chaos of real relationships, learning to celebrate our differences, learning to stay together even when we don’t like one another… so that the world will see a living picture of Jesus Christ. Kevin is married to his best friend, Carla, and they are the parents of three adult daughters. Connect with Kevin at his website, or listen to his sermon podcasts at hopedetroit.org.
Coming to Terms With Our Limitations
This article is part of a series at The High Calling on Coming to Terms with Our Limitations. Not a super-fun topic, I suppose, but certainly a reality that all of us must face sooner or later in our lives: the lack of living up to our dreams; the struggle to accept our not-so-glamorous circumstances; redefining of our perception of success. Are you dealing with this in your professional life? Do you know someone who is frustrated and could use a reassuring Christian perspective? Why not share some encouragement with those folks by sending these articles around via email or social media?
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Family Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.