“Assignment: draw the most wonderful thing that could happen to you this next year.” This sign hung in a collection of children’s artwork in a home I visited for children who suffer with severe emotional and behavioral challenges. I was attracted to the drawing of a 7-year-old boy: a self-portrait. Drawn as disproportioned stick figures with big smiley faces, it depicted him with someone on either side of him holding his hands. The drawing was just what you might expect from a 7-year old, but I was astonished by the four-word response written in his wobbly penmanship: “I will be loved.”
To be loved – this is the most wonderful thing that could happen to any of us. The longing, the hope of being loved, of belonging to others: these are basic needs and desires of the human heart. Written into our human nature is the need to be seen, to be noticed as special, to be appreciated and loved. Every human being is created as a gift, to be given and received in love. Yet so often, there is not one who will receive that gift. This void can create a weariness and an emptiness in our hearts and we can find ourselves wondering, “Do I have something worthy of offering?”
In our work with women, we have tried to learn the great art of being with others, which we call accompaniment. It’s a way of receiving another – looking at the person before me, not as a project or a problem to be solved, but as a gift, a unique masterpiece of God’s love. It’s developing the habit of gazing at this person with the heart, seeing the things that are hidden beneath the surface. It’s a way of listening for precisely the things that are not said out loud. Perhaps after much tending, a heart can be awakened and come alive in a new way. A new beauty is revealed. In this exchange, a hidden treasure is discovered; something that was limping can move more freely; buried reservoirs of strength can be uncovered; new areas of the heart are brought to life.
Nature images this process. Consider a rose bud. At its first signs of life, it is tightly closed up, with an interior realm of hidden beauty. There is great potential, yet the bud cannot open on its own. It needs the warmth of the sun, water, and soil to grow. In the right conditions, it opens up and unfolds to show its inner beauty and fragrance. Bearing new life in hearts and souls is a delicate process. It takes time and attention. It might seem like nothing is happening when growth is silent and hidden. Yet, in a world that is so fractured and fragmented, I need to continue to bring the whole of myself to the other and remain present so that the warmth of Jesus’ love can penetrate, heal, and nourish.
Feeling our worth
Not too long ago, I was sitting with a college student whom I have gotten to know over the past couple years. She had a conversion early on in college, after being away from the faith and becoming involved in unhealthy relationships throughout high school. Our regular conversations have become a source of growth and integration for her. It’s a joy to affirm God’s work in her soul as He restores her innocence and renews her beauty.
Around Christmas time, we got together for a conversation in an office at the campus church. About half way through our meeting, the choir began a rehearsal in the room next to us. After a while, I asked her, “What’s your favorite Christmas carol?” She responded, “O Holy Night.” I asked, “Why do you like it?” She smiled and said, “You know the line, ‘long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared and the soul felt its worth’? That’s how I feel. I am beginning to feel my worth. Every time I come here, I sense that I have dignity.”
God has entered human history. He transforms our stories. Because of the Incarnation, God is present in each one of us. He desires to live in us, weak instruments though we are, to reveal His warmth, love, and kindness, and to remind others of their worth.
As that little 7-year-old boy captured in his wobbly drawing, it is when someone sees the truth of who we are, comes alongside us, receives us, and grasps our hand, that we can know: we will be loved. And it’s the most wonderful thing.
Originally printed in IMPRINT Magazine. Written by Sr. Maris Stella, S.V.