by Caroline Riebeling
Caroline is serving as an Instructor at Academy of Hope in Washington, DC.
Together we can accomplish what we could never do singly. We hope that corporately and individually we can put the gifts and energies we possess at the service of one another and of that part of the human family with whom we are in contact. We are emboldened by one another’s courage, strengthened by one another’s commitment to justice, heartened by others’ good humor.
Community is about giving and receiving support!
Yesterday I joined with billions of people around the world in celebrating the start of the liturgical season of Easter, a time of fulfilled hope and new life. As I reflect on the meaning of this season in my personal life, I cannot help but consider my own position as part of a community. I have found many communities in my time as a Loretto volunteer this year. I have formed deep relationships with my co-workers and learners, and I have developed as part of the Loretto volunteer community, as well as part of the DC volunteer community. Finally, I have grown into a more profound understanding of my place in the Loretto religious community as a whole. The above quote from Loretto Life struck me as a reminder of the responsibilities I have to these particular communities as well as to the world I live in. As a result of my Lenten observance, I have had ample time to consider my personal relationship to sacrifice and responsibility, but this year I have been able to view these concepts in a way entirely different from what I have been used to. The members of my communities have pushed me to think much more critically about what these values actually look like in my daily life.
In order to give some idea of what service and responsibility mean to me, I find it helpful to state that I identify as a 2 on the Enneagram. For those unfamiliar with this personality type indicator, 2’s are Givers. We tend to place others’ needs before our own and show love to others through service. I know, I know, we sound like a pretty fantastic group of people, but we are far from flawless. A significant part of my individual growth this year has consisted of critically analyzing two things each time I ‘serve’ someone. I have begun being more intentional about considering 1) why I am giving/serving 2) if what I am doing is actually helping anyone. The answers to these questions do not always produce a portrait of myself that I expect or that I would like to see. Sometimes I have selfless reasons for my actions; other times I act in order to avoid conflict or to mask my own needs. In avoiding these things, however, I am not allowing myself or my community members the ability to give our own gifts or to experience growth. It is this realization that has inspired me to try to embrace the discomfort it seems we all inevitably experience around self-care and conflict at points in our lives.
Moving into the Easter season, the last quarter of this volunteer year, and keeping in mind a new lens through which I see myself and my service as a volunteer, I feel a deep personal urge to recommit to the values of Loretto in order to better serve the members of my communities. This recommittal includes finding a balance between being critical and aware of the intentions and reasons behind my work within these communities along with being kind to myself. I feel a need to lean into the tension that comes along with being vulnerable, living as part of an intentional community, and being honest with myself.
I am beginning to realize that sharing the gifts I have to offer does not come singularly from my willingness to interact with this tension. In order to really give to others, I need to make sure that I am also aware of (and making known) my own needs. Otherwise, I am not considering myself as a full member of my communities, which is a disservice to all parties involved. Being critical of myself has been the easier half of the work; acknowledging that I have needs as well as gifts to give has proved to be a significantly more difficult task, but one that is necessary if I have any hope of actually giving anything to anyone. In light of this undertaking, I am acknowledging that my recommitment to living as an equal and active part of my communities, although not being made for selfish reasons, grants me the support, love, courage, and strength I need in order to be a full member as well as a healthy person - and I am learning to be okay with accepting those things from those around me. Recognizing myself as an equal member in my communities and critically thinking about the ways in which I serve others have been difficult journeys for me to undertake, but I am determined to continue with the love and support of my community members. I am looking forward to these next months that I know will not always be easy, but that will bring me closer to the people I am serving, and maybe even teach me some new things about myself and what I am capable of as part of a community.
Living more intentionally as part of a community will also allow me to more deeply live out the values of spirituality, social justice, and simplicity that I committed to in the beginning of this program. It has certainly been difficult to earnestly delve into these values and how to live them out, but they are genuinely significant to me. It has been tempting to simply say it is too hard and to drop the subjects altogether, but growth emerges from challenge and difficulty. Being willing to recognize my own needs for support as well as my need to be continually challenged and encouraged to move forward, I can begin to tap into the strength that my community allows me to have and, in turn, offer more of myself back to it. This offering of myself will be sincere – I will be able to offer support, love, and humor to the members of my community, but I have also recognized my need as a community member to offer challenges to those around me. In being challenged, I have grown. It is only fair that I offer that same opportunity to those around me – and in order to accomplish this I must begin to recognize my own needs and my own place as part of my communities. Cycle after cycle of giving and receiving, of challenge and support, we can only get stronger, we can only have a deeper capacity for love, we can only have more courage to work for justice - and we can accomplish something great.
And we would not be Loretto Volunteers if we did not take some time to be “heartened by other’s humor”- so, inspired by the season of Easter, my last commitment is to try to be easier on myself, to try to remember not to take myself so seriously, and to remember that finding something to laugh about in spite of the difficulties I encounter is a revolution in itself.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.