Editor’s Note: Returned missioner Claire McGarry reflects on letting go of the desire to “fix” problems and instead using that energy to focus on the importance of accompanying others and presenting them with hope.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galations 6:2
As long as I can remember, I have wanted to help people and fix their problems. It was the major reason I joined Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) and served in Guatemala for three years. I was young and energetic, willing to do anything to change the world for the better.
I arrived in Guatemala wide-eyed and ready to go. What I wasn’t ready for were the frustrations I’d feel bumping up against issue after issues that I just couldn’t fix. No matter what technique I tried, I couldn’t teach a dyslexic women to read. No matter how many hours I invested in lesson plans, I couldn’t teach kids who had to go harvest their family’s crops instead of coming to school. No matter what approach I took, I couldn’t get the villagers to overcome their decades long prejudices to agree on a Community Center that was meant to bring them together.
Not being able to fix everything was a very hard pill to swallow. It took a lot of time, tears, and prayer to realize that my role wasn’t to change Guatemala. Yes, I could help with the tasks they asked of me, but I wasn’t supposed to take the superior stance of being the one with all the answers. My primary role was simply to be with the people.
The ministry of presence is far more profound than we give it credit for. When we accompany people in their struggles, showing compassion and support, we plant small seeds of hope. Like a mustard seed, when hope takes root, it grows larger than any problem in the garden of their lives. That hope restores their dignity, empowers them to work on their own struggles, and in turn, blesses us.
Although I didn’t change the world for the Guatemalans I served with, they most certainly changed mine. They taught me that despite the problems that can’t be fixed, happiness can still exist. Although we can’t eliminate people’s burdens all together, we can ease them when we come bearing and sharing hope.
Questions For Reflection:
- Am I someone who feels compelled to fix other people’s problems?
- Do I recognize the importance of the ministry of presence?
- Can I still find happiness in the midst of my problems?
- Has there been a time when someone has shared the gift of presence with me? How did that make me feel?
Claire McGarry is a former FMS missioner, mom of three young children, and the founder of MOSAIC of Faith: a ministry through which she offers evening retreats and monthly groups for moms, service projects for kids, and a weekly mommy-and-me program. She posts weekly at “Shifting My Perspective” where she writes about how Scripture always gives her a new way to look at the challenges in motherhood, and life in general, to see the gifts in their midst. You can visit her blog at www.shiftingmyperspective.com.
*Featured image: adaptation of photo by thea-bee-photography – labeled for reuse