Nearly 18 months ago, my friend returned from her inaugural FOCUS missionary training with a palpable enthusiasm to build community, love others, and make her love for Jesus visible in the world. She returned with a suitcase full of books, business cards, pamphlets, and ideas. She was eager to fundraise her salary and move to a new college campus for the start of the school year with the undergraduate students she would come to know, mentor, and disciple towards Christ. She was ready to serve where God had called her.
Her selfless demonstration of service as a missionary has influenced and inspired my identity as a wife.
Although I admired my friend’s zest and zeal through her process of discerning missionary life, I was cautiously curious about the details of her new routines. What was it, exactly, that she would do once she arrived on campus? I have not forgotten her response to my question:
“It’s about being radically available for others.”
This use of radically enlists a sense of wonder and mystery. Being available for someone is standard, like answering the phone but calling back later if something is going on. But being radically available means clearing the schedule and committing the rest of the day to talking on the phone.
While she committed to a dating fast for her first year on the job, I discerned my vocation to married life. Months later, her commitment to be radically available for her students has influenced my understanding of what it means to be a Christian wife in service of God and my husband. All in all, we are talking about vocations to love.
A holy missionary is wholeheartedly committed to being a faith-filled friend, mentor, confidant, and image of Jesus. We can look at the way Saint Mother Teresa befriended families in India and how Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati gave the coat off his back to the underdressed stranger. We may recognize missionaries in our midst and see how they surrender their plans and expectations to answer a call from God to build community with others.
Although I am not called to serve as a missionary in the world, do I bring a missionary heart of charity, service, and friendship into my own home?
To be radically available to another reminds me of the standard “stop, drop, and roll!” response when a person catches on fire. Yet when a significant matter arises in someone’s life, it is the one who is radically available who lovingly stops and drops everything in order to roll to the other’s side.
Saying I do on the marriage altar opens a door to the daily invitation to love my spouse. To love is more than an emotion, it is an act of the will. There are a number of factors that affect our heart’s approach to service: external pressures, internal insecurities, hormonal mood swings, lack of exercise or sleep, political conflict, social conflict, and simply feeling overwhelmed (to name a few). But we make a vow to love--and to serve--on the good days and the bad days.
Yet, in truth, I wrestle with the tension between selflessness and self-care. Christ tells us, “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Does this mean we can momentarily push pause on loving others so we can escape to love on ourselves? How much am I willing to surrender for the sake of my spouse’s joy? Or comfort? My God-given responsibility as a wife is to work for my husband’s salvation; is his earthly happiness worth sacrificing my own personal pleasures, comforts, and opinions on certain matters?
Consider decisions as small as keeping the thermostat at a certain temperature, agreeing on specific holiday traditions, or choosing between music, television or silence as background noise in your home. Then there are decisions to read a book alone or spend quality time together, to sleep in or wake up early to make breakfast for your spouse.
Even in meager moments of surrender, I am encouraged by C.S. Lewis’ wisdom to “submit to death of your ambitions and favorite wishes… and you will find eternal life.” I am increasingly intrigued by the invitation to be radically available than by the alternative to be content in my own pleasures.
In every decision to choose the other, our individual identities fade and we become more fully united through acts of love.
As Catholics, we are privy to the benefits of the sacraments—and prayer—as fuel to keep loving when our tanks run low. Christ also says to “love others because he loved us first.” He makes himself radically available so that we, too, may love with an everlasting love—on the good days and the bad days.
Living a life of service and radical availability can challenge both our human nature and cultural norms. Who do we look to as models of charity? How often do we receive God’s merciful love to refill our tank? Do we elicit affirmation from others as permission to turn inwardly or as encouragement to serve others with virtue?
My prayer is that you and I can make a choice to fulfill the call to love by being radically available to someone this week, with the persistent hope of establishing ever-deeper bonds of charity in our homes and communities.