Weekday chapel is a time for the community to gather where faculty, staff, students, and guests serve as chapel speakers, musicians, and artists. It offers a space in the community schedule to gather as community for song, reflection, and fellowship. I delivered the message on April 7th and below are my remarks which focused on blessings and the student experience.
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.
...so that YOU will be a blessing...
I remember when my dad died almost six years ago. At his visitation, a woman walked up to me and took my hands and simply said, "Your dad saved my life." With those simple words, I knew immediately what she meant. My dad spent the second half of his life as an alcohol and drug counselor and helped many fight the addiction that ruins many lives.
At his funeral, my oldest sibling recounted how our father did not come from much, did not finish high school and he did not leave having accumulated any financial wealth–in some circles the measure of one's value of their time on earth. However, what we did know and what was captured in that moment was how great a blessing he was to many–the blessings were immeasurable.
I wonder what keeps us from being a blessing – or more of a blessing – to those around us? What prevents us from fully offering our distinct gifts, talents, and strengths in service to our communities?
I am reminded of wisdom shared by Luther seniors over the past several years and perhaps their insights can provide perspective on these questions.
One recounted how he had made a mistake by equating busyness with his value. He shared how he would walk across campus and if a peer stopped to ask him a question he would immediately say he had something to get to. He would go about his way, patting himself on the back and tightening his imaginary tie.
As he moved through his senior year, it was in moments like that and others when he realized that being busy had an opportunity cost and kept him from being vulnerable. He discovered that vulnerability was the greater value. His message resonated with me. How can we become vulnerable? How do we help one another be vulnerable? Brené Brown shared, "When you shut down vulnerability, you shut down the opportunity." What kind of opportunity? Perhaps for connection, understanding, engagement, love. Taking the time to slow down and be with someone, to be fully present – to truly listen to their concerns and interests is the solution this senior appreciated.
Another shared how she put on her "game face" when she came to Luther and she kept it on for some time. Now, it's important to note that Luther is not an overly competitive environment – academically or socially. Students are not trying to outdo one another and we are fortunate to not have all the ill effects that kind of culture can produce (which I have seen). Yet, she believed she could not let her peers know she did not have all the answers, that she may not be perfect, that she might be struggling just like her peers.
How many students are in our classrooms, residence halls, and elsewhere holding onto an unnecessary game face? Does this keep students from diving fully into the intellectual life of our community? What about faculty and staff? Do we have a game face or suffer from imposter syndrome? Last Friday, Nadia Bolz-Weber talked about the struggle of trying to attain our idealized self when accepting our true selves is what is most necessary. While it may be difficult, taking off our game face may be the avenue to allowing us to give and receive grace.
This spring, I listened to a student talk about her understanding of leadership. She contrasted her high school understanding – position and quantity – with her understanding now. She shared how the Launching Luther Leaders program has helped her to appreciate that leadership is about quality and going deeper into experiences rather than accumulation. She shared how reflecting over the summer before her junior year, she decided to "off-load" some commitments upon her return to campus. When a peer asked, how did it feel, she replied, without hesitation, "It felt great!" She further noted that by stepping aside, she opened up opportunities for students that she would otherwise have taken away.
These realizations did not happen in one magical moment. Rather, they happened as a result of reflection. When Betsy Fawcett spoke in chapel on Monday, she referenced how she struggled with the impact of busyness on her well-being. How being busy masked feelings of inadequacy in her pursuit of being good, perfect. She talked about how this pursuit pushed her to be stretched too thin, to the point of being incapable of responding to multiple events that were going on in her life. By being busy, she did not give herself any wiggle room for those major events, bad moments, or even bad days. She's learned the grace of self-compassion and how to forgive herself when making mistakes, not living up to expectations, and being okay with being imperfect. She cautioned – don't let your busyness distract you from what you are feeling and live your life in a way that doesn't ignore who you are. She continued, take time to ask yourself why am I doing what I am doing?
I am a member of a learning community that is exploring work-study experiences on campus and this fall we invited four students (two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore) to talk about their experiences. Their work-study assignments included custodial, CAF, library, help desk, and faculty AAA. As we listened to them, we were struck by how directly they experienced the value of their work and how it contributed to the community. One student talked about the pride she took in ensuring windows her peers walked by were clean and clear so they could see the beauty beyond and another who spoke of how she learned about the lives of her adult colleagues in the CAF and to appreciate the challenges they faced in their lives. It was meaningful to watch them listen to and interact with one another. As the meeting closed, I asked them two questions – have you ever had a conversation with anyone about your work-study experience like we had this afternoon? They all replied, no. And, was this conversation helpful? They all replied yes.
Our challenge is to find ways to add reflection into our collective experiences. It clearly has value as evidenced by all these stories. It takes real effort to slow down and to look back and make meaning of our experiences. Reflection, as a practice is necessary for understanding, learning, and growth. Through active reflection, we can listen more carefully for what is needed of us, to see more clearly the signals that provide us direction to a possible future, and to discern the distinct nature of our present callings. Civil Rights leader Howard Thurman stated, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive."