I recently went to a retreat facilitated by an author and speaker by the name of Heather King. It would take several blog posts to talk about all the things I got out of this retreat, but one of the things that will really stay with me was when she said (and I’m paraphrasing here), “God doesn’t need another Dorothy Day; He already has one. God doesn’t need another Mother Teresa; He already has one. But God could use a Heather, and that’s what I need to be.”
Suddenly I found myself weeping. Seriously, blubbering like a crazy person in the fifth row. That was when I realized that I have what I now call a holiness inferiority complex.
The thing is, I work at a church. I am surrounded by legitimately holy people everyday. People who stand in the streets protesting war; volunteers who have raised enough money and sweat equity to buy a building and renovate it into a day shelter for the homeless; mothers who work two jobs to put their five kids through Catholic school; a pastor who works around the clock six days a week, only to spend his one day off stripping wax off our school floors or replacing the shingles on our office building roof.
That’s not even all of it. I have a co-worker named Aleah, and she runs our outreach and social justice programs at the church. I share an office with her, and I also happen to be good friends with her. In a day’s work, she will save someone from being evicted, and then someone else from having their water or their heat shut off in the middle of winter, and then someone else from dying because they couldn’t afford their prescription medication. I’ve seen her come in to work at 8:30am after volunteering until 2am at a homeless shelter. I’ve seen her organize school supply drives, Christmas giving trees, sandwich-making ministries, and social justice prayer groups. I’ve seen her take hours out of her busy days just to be there for people who had visible symptoms of mental illness or substance abuse, and caring for them with real, unpatronizing compassion. And when she’s all done at work, she picks up her two adorable boys from school at 3:15pm, goes home to her husband and her precious baby (who happens to be my godson), cooks, tucks her kids into bed, and somehow finds the time to stream shows on Netflix just so she can relate with the rest of us mere mortals. To top it off, no pun intended, she is literally a whole foot taller than me. She also sings like a Disney princess and her laugh sounds like wind chimes.
I would normally hate people like that, but I can’t even hate her because, well, I kinda love her. She doesn’t tune me out I go on and on about the books I like to read. Also, she knows not to take it personally when I’m sort of zoned out at lunch because she understands that I’ve already reached the Introvert’s Daily Quota for Personal Interaction. (I don’t know if that’s a thing, but if it isn’t, someone needs to look into it). Naturally, it was also Aleah who invited me to this retreat.
When I told her about this so-called inferiority complex, she laughed her wind chime laugh. She told me that she completely understood what I was talking about, but that I obviously had no need to feel inferior. She assured me that I definitely had something to offer, and she absolutely meant it, and I believed her. And then, it was time for dinner.
At dinner, we sat next to a lady named Alco. She is blind. After we ate, she wanted to go back to her room but couldn’t find her way out of the noisy dining hall. She asked me if I could show her the way out to the hallway.
Aha, I thought. An opportunity to be holy. “I’d be happy to help you out,” I said, practically jumping out of my seat. “I’ll even give you my arm!”
I was grinning from ear to ear. I, Renee, vain, tardy, germophobic, and a chronic over-thinker, was performing an act of mercy. Sure, I don’t have it in me to be a war protester or a social worker. My body can’t even get it together enough to get pregnant and be a mother, at least not yet. But I do what I can do: I write, I teach, I sing, and I bring attention to the saintly works that my colleagues are doing around me. And that day, I led a blind woman out of a noisy din into the safety of a quiet hallway.
“Are you going to be alright?” I asked Alco as we walked out.
“Oh yes, sweetie, I’ll be just fine,” she said. I watched her make her way down the hall and I was filled with so much gratitude. It took a blind stranger to help me see that I, too, can be a part of the work. I, too, can help. I just need to do what I can do in the moment. God doesn’t need another Aleah; He already has one. Sometimes, He could use Renee, too, and that’s what I need to be. That’s all I need to be.
Just then Alco turned around one last time and said joyfully across the hall, “I really appreciate your help! Thanks, Aleah!”
What the…did she just call me Aleah?!
I burst out laughing because, let’s face it, that is hilarious. The one time I do something kind and virtuous, I get mistaken for Aleah. I guess that’s what I get for being friends with kind, virtuous people. But you know what, that isn’t a bad thing. I’m thinking one day, if I become good enough friends with Jesus, I might get mistaken for Him, too. After all, that kind of sums up a good Christian life, doesn’t it: knowing God, loving God, and through our humanity, allowing God to reveal Himself to others.
So I went back into the dining room and told my dear friend the story. She found it hilarious, too, and she laughed her wind chime laugh.