As a house, we are currently reading Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Greg Boyle. It is a heartbreaking, warm, and inspiring book filled with the stories of a priest who has spent his life building community among former gang members of East LA through a non-profit called Homeboy Industries. Although Boyle’s work is very different than our own, we have found great comfort in his words of hope but also in his words of struggle. As he says, all bets are off when you choose to cast your lot with those on the margins. With the challenges of this week at Lydia’s House as we accompany our guests and each other through crisis and pain, we share these words of Fr. Greg with you:
People want me to tell them success stories. I understand this. They are the stories you want to tell, after all. So why does my scalp tighten whenever I’m asked this? Surely, part of it comes from my being utterly convinced I’m a fraud…. Twenty years of this work has taught me that God has greater comfort with inverting categories than I do. What is success and what is failure? What is good and what is bad? Setback or progress? Great stock these days, especially in nonprofits (and who can blame them), is placed in evidence-based outcomes. People, funders in particular, want to know if what you do “works.”
Are you in the end successful? Naturally, I find myself heartened by Mother Teresa’s take “We are not called to be successful but faithful.” This distinction is helpful for me as I barricade myself against the daily dread of setback. You need protection from the ebb and flow of three steps forward, five steps backward. You trip over disappointment and recalcitrance every day, and it all becomes a muddle. God intends it to be, I think. For once you choose to hang out with folks who carry more burden than they can bear, all bets seem to be off. Salivating for success keeps you from being faithful, keeps you from truly seeing whoever’s sitting in front of you. Embracing a strategy and an approach you can believe in is sometimes the best you can do on any given day. If you surrender your need for results and outcomes, success becomes God’s business. I find it hard enough to just be faithful.
So with these words, we at Lydia’s House ask for your prayers that we might put success in God’s hands as we struggle to be faithful to the Gospel call.
If you’d like to hear more from Fr. Greg about compassion and kinship, you can click here or hear him speak October 2 at Xavier University if you are in the Cincinnati area.