Today is my friend Vincent’s* 81st birthday. As such, I’m thinking about something he said to me the first time we went on community vacation. When L’Arche takes vacation, everybody comes along:  core members, assistants, community leaders, office staff. It’s a weekend of campfires, Boggle and scavenger hunts. Assistants still do daily-life routines with core members (somebody’s gotta help brush everybody’s teeth), but they are leisurely routines.

The schedule is flexible. The pace is unhurried. It’s a glorious change from the ‘real world’.

One afternoon, all I did was hang out with Vincent on the porch. We sat in lawn chairs, drank bottled water and spent time just being. I was an overeager new assistant, though, so I had trouble staying still. I’d spring up to refill his bottle (or bring him food, or tie his shoelaces.) And every time, he’d tell me, “No, dear. You rest. You just stay right where you are and rest.”

Gradually, I let those words sink in. (They’re sinking in still.) As I pay attention to those words, these questions come up:

Can ‘waiting with’ someone matter as much as ‘waiting on’ someone?

Vincent’s words helped me pay attention to what was actually needed that afternoon on the porch. He needed someone to rest with him. Someone to take a break with him. For that afternoon, he didn’t need someone to wait on him. He needed someone to wait with him.

Bear in mind:  there’s a time and place to roll up your sleeves and serve. Daily life at L’Arche involves lots of practical, get-your-hands-dirty tasks. However, there’s also a time to simply be with someone, without a flurry of activity.

To ponder: How many times have you jumped up to serve someone instinctively, rather than considering the possibility that what they needed most was your undivided attention? Put another way:  do you consider your presence as a gift you can offer?

Does my service run the risk of becoming me-centric?

There was a paradox inherent in my attitude toward Vincent that day. I wanted to help, to serve him as best I could. I wanted to do things that signified my love for him. But that attitude, however well-meaning, was focused on me, on my expectation of what he’d need. (Notice how many times ‘I’ appeared in the sentences above.) That attitude, however well-meaning, actually blocked me from true service. When I shifted focus and started paying attention to what would serve Vincent…my behavior changed. I stopped thinking about being a great assistant and started thinking about Vincent’s need. What did he want and need most in that moment?

He wanted someone to sit on the porch with him and watch the day go by. That’s all. No grand gesture, just a friend to hang out with.

It’s like that line of Mother Teresa’s:  “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

To ponder: Is it difficult for you to ‘think small’ when it comes to loving others? (When it comes to loving yourself?) Why? Could ‘saving the day’ mean ‘just showing up’ for someone else, being attentive to their truest need?

Is my fear of not being ‘enough’ blinding me?

Something else Vincent began saying during that time has stayed with me to this day. Whenever I’d make a mistake while on routine with him — when I’d drop a book or forget gloves — I’d get flustered and frustrated with myself. Again, I was a new assistant, and I wanted so badly to do well, to do things right. And so I’d apologize. Vincent would look at me, calm as can be. He’d pat my shoulder and say, with all the wisdom of an octogenarian:   “Don’t worry, dear. I still love ya.”

To ponder (all right, to do!): If you can say that to a stressed-out someone today, say it.

Let me tell you, it feels really, really good to hear.



*Names have been changed.

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  1. Don March 18, 2011 at 4:55 PM - Reply

    Jean Vanier sometimes says “we are called to waste time with people.”

  2. Tara March 18, 2011 at 5:13 PM - Reply

    Lately I have been realizing that I’m harder on myself than anyone else would ever be. Thanks for this lovely reminder to lighten up and rest now and again.
    You have such a beautiful style of writing: gentle, compassionate, down-to-earth.

  3. Chi Yon Barbosa March 20, 2011 at 5:23 AM - Reply

    First time on your blog. I love your writing style. I understand exactly what you mean. Being a mom does the same thing. Sometimes we need reminders to just sit and take a breath to look around. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Caroline McGraw March 20, 2011 at 2:11 PM - Reply

      Thank you, Chi Yon! I’m happy you’re here, and glad to have a mom’s perspective included.

  4. Mark Robertson March 20, 2011 at 9:23 AM - Reply

    Wonderful moment. You must have a wealth of story from L’Arche

    “That was time well wasted…”

    Waiting with, being, is the soul of love. all the work of hands and days is to get us to that place…the hearthside of our home.

    Lovely writing. I’m sure Vincent was Home.


    • Caroline McGraw March 20, 2011 at 2:13 PM - Reply

      Elegantly stated as always! 🙂 I love that phrase, “the hearthside of our home.” Thank you Mark.

  5. donna March 21, 2011 at 10:17 PM - Reply

    I am pondering about the giving of undivided attention….so many times swept away for the urgency of “doing”. Thanks Caroline!

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