Have you ever thought, “I would be so much happier if so-and-so was not in my life.”
Or “if only I had a different [boss, husband, mother-in-law — you fill in the blank] things would be so much better.”
I have had those kinds of thoughts many times over the course of my 35 years of living in community.
The Lord called me to live in a Catholic lay community when I was only 18 years old. We have had many people come through our doors over the years — some coming only for a few weeks or months, some staying for years, and some are still here. So I have lived with a wide variety of people. And God definitely likes variety!
I’m all for variety, but when you put people together who are vastly different in tastes, cultures, mannerisms, ways of thinking – people can really start rubbing each other the wrong way. There is a proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so does one person sharpen another.” (Proverbs 27:17) We all need a lot of polishing of our character flaws, and to provide us with the practical means of working on our sin, it seems like God often sends the perfect person to do that in our lives.
St. John Berchmans said, “My greatest penance is community life.” But it’s not just living in a close-knit community that we experience this. In talking to others from all walks of life it’s clear that everyone, at some point, has people that they clash with or find annoying or difficult to love. God allows us to rub elbows with people that are very different than we are and waits to see how we will respond.
The way I’ve come to look at it is that life is a school of love. God created us to know and love Him and to love one another as Christ loved us. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we are a loving, easy-to-get-along-with, all around nice person. UNTIL… we are faced with someone we clash with. Then we realize how loving (or unloving) we actually are.
Pope Francis spoke to an ecumenical group in southern Italy in July 2014 and told them, “What does the Holy Spirit do? …The Holy Spirit creates ‘diversity’ in the Church….He creates diversity! And truly this diversity is very rich, very beautiful. But then, the same Holy Spirit creates unity, and in this way the Church is one in diversity — a ‘reconciled diversity’.”
The pope went on to say how we should not be suspicious of one another or be threatened by the differences between us, but rather we should seek ways to grow in unity and collaboration. He stressed that the goal is not uniformity but unity in diversity.
“…if we truly believe in the free and generous action of the Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! And it is not a question of receiving only information about the others to get to know them better, but to reap that which the Spirit has sown in them as a gift also for us…Through an exchange of gifts, the Spirit can lead us all the more to the truth and to good.”
So the next time you have a quiet moment to pray and reflect, think about the person who is causing you the most grief* in your life at this time. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you some of their gifts. Is there anything the Lord wants to teach you through that person? Ask for light and insight into how your relationship might change for the better. And then wait for some answers.
The Lord loves diversity! And instead of an “us versus them” mentality, let’s do our part to seek to live a rich and authentic unity.
* a note of caution: if there is an abusive person in your life, or if you are unclear about this, you need to seek outside help and counsel for your individual situation.