Living as Contemplative Leaders in Action: The Only Way Through is Through

October 31, 2021

My best friend and I went out for a long walk, early on Saturday morning. I talked until I was nearly out of breath, pouring out the details of a painful interaction I’d had with a colleague at work. It was not the first time I had witnessed this bad behavior, and I couldn’t shake it off. I finally decided to make a formal complaint to human resources. I had barely slept that week, tossing and turning nearly every night. Did I do the right thing? 

Finally, my friend spoke up.  “Aren’t you angry?!” she asked. “I’m too tired to be angry,” I replied.  

As we turned around to head back home, she wrapped her arm around my shoulder, “I wish I could make this go away, but I can’t. All I can promise is that I will walk through the fire with you. There is no shortcut, and there is certainly no going backwards. The only way through this – is to go through it. The only way through is through.” 

This incident at work happened so many years ago now, it feels like a distant memory. I am grateful for all the ways I have grown and healed. I not only survived, but I made it through with new professional skills and spiritual tools, despite some very challenging circumstances. I owe a debt of gratitude to my best friend, the women in my prayer group, my spiritual director, and a wonderful therapist. I needed someone else to get angry on my behalf! I needed someone to shine a light through the darkness and show me that I was worth more, that I deserved to be treated better, and that my career and my self-worth would not be defined by this one messy episode in my life. 

Over time, I learned that being an advocate for others can be our greatest source of strength. In my ministry with college students, I often found myself shining the light ahead as they battled with disordered eating, mental health struggles, relationship woes, and sometimes even their own poor choices. Today, a significant part of my work involves drawing attention to the issues of poverty, hunger, migration, and other injustices that plague our world. People’s fundamental dignity and integrity are worth fighting for!  

One of the marks of a contemplative leader is how they live their magis – a Latin word meaning “more” or the “greater”.  Saint Ignatius offers us wisdom to discern the greater good to which God is calling us.  Magis is a result of God’s grace and our attentive listening, and ultimately responding by giving more generously of our gifts. Not simply giving more time, money, or energy; but responding with a wholehearted, deeper yes – perhaps even stretching beyond what we’re comfortable doing. 

Where is a deeper “yes” possible in your life’s work?   

I should clarify, too, what magis is not. Achieving the magis is not the result of our endless striving, being stressed out, or seeking positions of greater authority. Magis is not determined by the size of your bank account or by serving on a dozen extra committees. Our earthly possessions have no significance on God’s ability to do something “more” with our lives.  

This concept of magis is situated within the Spiritual Exercises, and it flows from a reflection on Christ the King. Jesus acts as a servant leader, offering healing and forgiveness, and even accepting suffering. Jesus found himself in trouble with the authorities because he healed people on the Sabbath and associated with those on the margins. We too are called to stand up for others, even when it’s uncomfortable and challenging and has unforeseen consequences.

Discovering our magis flows from Christ’s invitation to join him in his mission of saving and healing the world.  If I’m being completely honest, our “yes” is likely to land us in hot water on occasion! Discipleship is going to cost us something, and it will not exempt us from suffering or rejection. Ultimately, the greater good – our magis – is done in service of God’s love, forgiveness, healing, and justice. It is our participation in God’s salvific plan for the entire world.  

A young friend recently reached out to me, and I find myself practically looking in the mirror at someone who could be my former self – the woman I was all those many years ago. As I walk alongside someone who is bearing the weight of a difficult decision, I hear myself echoing those familiar words, “I wish I could make this go away, but I can’t. All I can promise is that I will walk through the fire with you. There are no shortcuts. The only way through is through.”  

It is humbling and heartbreaking to watch my friend go through something so painful, and this time, my righteous anger is on fire! My life experience makes me uniquely qualified to support her, and I’ve discovered the clarity that comes with distance and time. I know the right questions to ask. I’m not intimidated by the challenges. I have no doubt that God is using me for some greater good, no matter the outcome or the risks. 

Lately, I’ve been praying through the book of Esther. It is the story of a young woman who becomes queen, and must discern risking her own life to save others. The common people beg her to plead with the king on their behalf. “Perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) 

Who knows, perhaps you were made for just such a time as this, too. Whatever moment or circumstance you find yourself in. Magis is about living deeper into the things that God is calling you to right now. What God needs most is you to be more of who you are. Perhaps you are the one who is uniquely positioned to be friending, parenting, teaching, advocating, problem solving, serving, directing, accompanying, and healing a world in need.

 

Go Deeper:

Photo by Joseph Pearson on unsplash.com 

 

Beth Knobbe is an author, speaker, and ministry professional based in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Catholic Theological Union and serves as a Community Engagement Manager with Catholic Relief Services, engaging Catholics in living their faith in solidarity with the poor around the world. Beth is an avid traveler and is passionate about her vocation to the single life. Beth is the author of Party of One: Living Single with Faith, Purpose, and Passion (2011) and Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective (2009). Her personal blog can be found at www.bethknobbe.com.

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