Lauren delightfully serving a student at Arrupe Jesuit High School.
The Fruits of Radical Service
After graduating from the University of San Diego, Lauren Franklin, a.k.a. Frankie, brought to CVV 23 a joyful and reflective spirit. Her plan is to use her many gifts to pursue a degree in counseling. If she is not reading a piece of literature or writing about her heartfelt thoughts, Frankie, is probably preparing her favorite dish-Shakshuka (an Israeli egg dish).
It has been just about nine months since my year with CVV (23) ended, and I can’t help but notice how that is the same amount of time as a gestation period. The timing is wildly appropriate, because so many of the fruits of that year are now being birthed in my life. While I did experience radical growth much earlier than just this Lenten season, allowing God to integrate the work He did in me last year with my life today has been another journey of its own.
Last year, I worked in the Corporate Work Study office at Arrupe Jesuit High School, retraining teens who had been fired from their job placements and assisting with other administrative duties. I don’t love to admit it, but for the bulk of the year, I was desperately overwhelmed by my position. I didn’t know this at the time, but as I accompanied students, I saw their challenges as my own projects. So when students needed extra time to work on certain skills before receiving new job placements, I would become discouraged and work harder. I was operating under the lies that I am a savior, that my own efforts can solve humanity’s struggles and that those students’ journeys and mine defined each other. In retrospect, I can clearly recognize the pride that coursed through my perspective.
I have boundless gratitude for my community, coworkers and everyone Mary Frances and Bill so gracefully surrounded us with. Without them, I never would have had the opportunity to speak with Brother Aaron at Snowmass last spring. We sat on a bench a little removed from the retreat house, and I shared with him how deeply challenging the year had been for me. It’s funny, because I will never forget his words to me, but thinking back to that moment in time, I’m remembering that we were in a field and spring was just showing itself. As he spoke to me, he kept pointing out the new life all around us, “Just wait a moment. Now watch this butterfly.” “You see those birds over there? There’s something interesting about that type of bird…” The sunlight was catching everything, and as it did, Br. Aaron’s words illuminated my experience. He chatted with me about true service and how those we give our lives to do not belong to us. He said, “Your students’ successes are not your own.” I think a lot of pride died in me on that bench. In powerful tenderness, he helped set me free to love more purely.
After that weekend at the monastery, I returned to my students with a transformed perspective. I was able to look at them with unhindered delight, because finally I understood that really, their “success” had very little to do with me. I was simply there to cherish them, be an honest teacher and let God do the rest. Gosh, for the students’ sake, I wish I had begun the year with that mentality. They would have had to deal with far less stress and would have probably felt a whole lot more loved by me.
Now, fast-forward to today. I am back home in the town where I grew up, outside Los Angeles. I’m working with kids again, but this time all four of them are under 4 years old. The community I live with is my immediate family. In these upper middle class Southern California suburbs, human needs are harder to discern. True to form, I entered this new year with a bit of an existential crisis. (Where my enneagram 4s at?) Joking aside, I struggled to integrate the life-altering lessons I had learned in Denver. I wanted God to use me again. I yearned for Him to put to practice the true mutuality He’d taught me about the prior year. My thought process was something like this: God painfully stripped me of my false sense of service, and now He’s led me back to people who didn’t even need me?! I am sure we all can recognize that the same sinfulness of last year resides in these thoughts. There was my pride, popping up again.
I find it especially apropos that I have been led to a nannying job in this season of life, because I am convinced that there are no better teachers of service than children. Funnily enough, it’s as if teenagers were the refining fire that prepared me for their younger counterparts—toddlers. While I floundered to apply the lessons of last year to suburban California, this Lent is affording me the space to see that even here, even now, God is yet still purifying my heart for others. A one-year-old’s cry for milk or her three-year-old sister’s tantrum are expressions of human need. No, those needs are not the same as poverty; and it pains my heart to think back to my students’ stories at Arrupe and what their living situations were, especially as I juxtapose them with the homelives of the children I care for today. What I can say is that the kids whom my time belongs to this year are important to God. I am no longer under the illusion that I am a savior, but I can see that these tiny people deserve someone who has been shaped and renewed by the hearts at Arrupe. I never could have looked these babies in the eyes with such unfettered love if my students last year had not challenged me to start with them.
During Lent, I took time to contemplate the heart of Jesus. As I sat in his presence, I was struck by his relentless desire to serve me in every moment. I am convinced that the Lord is the mutuality of service. Christ-filled form of service is not one-sided in any sense. “For in him, all things live and move and have their being” (Acts 17:28). He is with us, as we are with Him; as we are with others, others are with us. I now see that this relationship is everywhere: in Denver and California, in mountains and beach towns, in cities and suburbs, in broken homes and those that appear to have it all figured out.
As we savor this Easter season, I want to encourage my fellow CVVers: do not be afraid to go where you are called. How does Christ’s risenness move you? Where does love incarnate take you? Wherever in the world that is, God wants you there, and it is there that He will meet you again. Everything we do in His love is radical service. Everything.
What’s more? All of it is God’s radical service to us.