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Letting Go Of The Black And White


Editor’s Note: Returned missioner Claire McGarry reflects on how her time on mission with FMS taught her to shift her perspective and have a better appreciation for experiences outside her comfort zone.

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:14

I was raised in a strict Irish Catholic family where everything was very black and white.  We said the Rosary, prayed Novenas, visited apparition sites, and tried our best to follow the Ten Commandments to the letter.  It was very comforting to have the boundaries so clearly defined.  It created a solid and wonderful foundation to build upon.

Ironically enough, becoming a missioner with Franciscan Mission Service (FMS) shook that foundation a bit.  Before heading overseas, Sr. Barbara Fried and Fr. Anselm Moons presented session after session on peace and justice, moral theology, and cross-cultural realities: complicated issues that have no black and white.  Day after day, I found myself catapulted into the gray.

They never once contradicted the teachings of the Bible, but they challenged me to question things and draw my own conclusions.  It made me incredibly uncomfortable.  It felt like too much responsibility:  Who was I to judge?  What if my conclusions were wrong?  I spent those weeks in formation struggling.  I prayed and journaled A LOT.

Claire during formation with FMS

Claire during formation with FMS

From the perspective of twenty-six years later, it is easy to see that my formation with FMS was my faith’s adolescence.  What I was experiencing was growing pains that are no different from what my eleven-year-old is just starting to experience now.  Although I am so grateful for the black and white foundation I was raised on, it was critical for the maturity of my faith to be thrown into the gray.  I had to be challenged to exercise my own conscience to increase its strength.  As I practiced defining right from wrong in my own mind and heart, I was slowly developing a more mature spirituality.

Before FMS, my faith was second-hand, passed down to me from my parents.  Like all hand-me-downs, it gave me something to clothe myself in.  But it wasn’t my own; it wasn’t a perfect fit.

Once I crossed over into the gray, I had to work at my faith, grapple with it.  Being so engaged with it had me discovering my own personal relationship with God.  It led me to a first-hand faith, one that now fits me to a T.

Although I’ve come a long way, I still have a long way to go.  But I am extremely grateful to FMS for nurturing me through my awkward teenage faith years.  Although I resisted it, I have found beauty and grace in the gray.

Reflection Questions:

  • When did I first begin to experience the gray in life?
  • What was my reaction to that?  How did I respond?
  • Have I reached a point where I am comfortable in the gray of life and my faith?  If not, what can I do to get there?  If so, what has that experience been like?

Claire McGarry_headshot

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 Wikimedia user Daniel Case – creative commons

Franciscan Mission Service often invites guest writers to contribute to the blog. Contributors often include board members, formation leaders, Secular Franciscans, Franciscan friars and sisters, and other friends of the organization. If you would be interested in contributing, please contact info@franciscanmissionservice.org.