Container for Life

Since I read a rather broad range of things, I am widely exposed to a variety of people and situations.  I realized a long time ago that I am probably more likely to learn things from people who think differently than I do.  If I hang out with people who think just like I do, then all we do is reinforce what we know and, perhaps, even our stereotypes.  There is not much growth or progress in that!

One of the things I try to watch out for is the tendency to think that my interests are interesting and other people’s interests are boring!  Of course, I am more interested in some things than others.  That is natural.  But if I cultivate curiosity, then I can become interested in different kinds of things.  For me immediately to discount something as “uninteresting,” means I have given it no chance to teach me anything.  I lose.

I have just read an account of a conference of nuns and women religious leaders.  On the surface this should sound pretty irrelevant to my life and fairly boring.  I am not Catholic; I’m male; I am not a monk and not likely to become a monk.  And so goes the reasons why reading about nuns should be an utter bore and waste of time.  But I was intrigued.

Roman Catholic religious orders---monks and nuns---face similar issues many churches face and, indeed, many secular institutions.  I would put the issues in a two-fold way.  In the first instance how do they attract a new generation of people who want to join them in that way of life?  Secondly, how do they create a future for themselves and their work that will make sense as the 21st century unfolds?  Clearly, these two things go together.  Many other institutions face similar concerns.

For example, many churches that exist today will close their doors.  The same will be true for many colleges over the next couple decades.  And obviously, countless businesses will go out of business.  Because you exist today is no guarantee that tomorrow will be given to you.  At least the monks and nuns have God on their side!

I would like to pick out one small feature of the religious women’s gathering to focus some thoughts as I think about how do I keep growing and maturing into the meaningful future I hope my life creates.  My focus latches on to some words that Margaret Wheatley shared at the gathering.  I know Wheatley from her books and work on leadership.  She offered some wise counsel.

In effect Wheatley was offering the religious sisters a way to begin thinking about their future.  I can relate to this because it is what we try to do when we think about innovation.  Innovation is a way of coming up with a new thing or, at least, doing an old thing a new way.  I don’t know of any institution that should not be trying to think innovatively.  Of course, it is not easy.  If it were, no one would be in trouble.  But if you cannot figure out how to be innovative, you better hope to be lucky!

I thought Wheatley’s beginning point was clever.  She chose to ask the religious sisters to think about their vow.  We all know that monks and nuns take vows.  They are well known to most people: poverty, chastity and obedience.  Of course, these vows are what make the religious seem so different than the rest of us in our society.  Most of us are not going to take any one of these vows!  We are determined to be independent and to have fun.

But this is where it gets tricky.  I can think about myself.  Am I independent and having fun?  Are you?  I want to be careful about my assumptions about what all people need to have fun and be independent.  This is where Wheatley’s comments were helpful.  She said that the vow “doesn’t give us the hope of results, it gives us the container of our life…”  It is clever because she wanted to unhook the sisters from a hope of results.  This is especially true for anyone trying to live a life dedicated to what God wants for them.  This is what I am trying to do---just like the nun.  If this is true, then I also can unhook from the hope of results

I choose obedience over results.  That is very freeing.  And it preserves my independence.  Wheatley puts it succinctly: “we cannot be tied to a hope of results.”  Look at it this way: to be “tied” is the same thing as “dependence.”  Wheatley is challenging the religious sisters to be even more independent---so independent that they can respond and follow God wherever that leads them.

Their vow is to be obedient, not to be successful.  That could be good news in a society that is slavishly driven by success---however that is measured.  In a monastic community, there are no winners and losers.  In secular society there are losers all over the place.  That is a lot of fun!

Wheatley says the vow is the “container of life.”  I want to adopt this.  Instead of vow, I prefer the language of commitment.  My commitment is the container of my life.  The commitment to God, to family and to friends becomes the container of love, sacrifice and so forth.  This truly will be the way I will be given a future worth living.

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