It’s a bad idea to go places expecting to see miracles, even if you’ve seen miracles in those places before. God always works, but not necessarily according to our schedule or in ways that we can see.
This past weekend, I was a chaperone on a weekend retreat for high-schoolers enrolled in our parish’s Confirmation program. This was my fourth time chaperoning such a retreat over the last year, although this was a new batch of students who had begun taking Confirmation classes in September.
I had been looking forward to the experience. While I knew it would entail functioning on minimal sleep and responding to typical teenage antics, I also assumed there would be moments of awe and inspiration. Upon my first chaperoning experience last year, seeing youth and young adults with faith on fire led me to re-examine my own relationship with God and embark on what has been an ongoing journey of metanoia.
Each subsequent retreat has come with its challenges, but also moments of inspiration in which a youth or young adult will share something so beautiful or even profound that it makes the whole weekend worth it. Sometimes just seeing the change on someone’s faith upon coming out of Confession on the retreat can be inspiring.
This retreat wasn’t quite the same for me. Some of the kids were far more challenging than past groups in terms of being out of control and at times flat-out disrespectful toward the adults. (According to my sons, who are regularly involved with the program, I’m not the first person to make that observation.) And maybe it was me — maybe my own frustration closed me up spiritually so that I couldn’t absorb those moments in the same way — but I just didn’t have any of those moments of grace that I’d experienced in the past.
When I got home, my wife commented that there were probably some good kids there, too. And she’s right, but those weren’t the ones with whom I had to interact. (The chaperones on these retreats don’t lead activities or anything; we’re really just there to keep the kids under control in the cabins at night and to intervene where there’s a problem.) One of my sons asked whether there was any part of the retreat I enjoyed, and I found the question hard to answer. There were some goods moments, but nothing that just spiritually blew me away.
Then THAT VOICE stepped in, asking questions like, Were you there for the kids or for yourself?; Does the fact that YOU didn’t feel spiritually inspired mean that the kids weren’t?; and my personal favorite, What if the kids who were the most difficult were the ones who needed to be there the most?
Sometimes the seeds we scatter bear fruit where we least expect it. None of the kids on last year’s retreat knew that their words and actions would inspire a major spiritual awakening in me. I have no idea how kids were inspired this weekend or how deeply, but if one kid may have been moved as I was last year, wasn’t that worth my time and energy, and perhaps even putting up with a little disrespect?
Once, while contemplating the Mystery of the Nativity, it occurred to me that anyone who passed by that scene would not likely have had any clue that they were passing by the most important moment in human history. (The shepherds knew only because the angel told them.) If anything, they probably just saw a baby being born in a dirty place to a couple of poor people. They might have even looked at the situation with contempt: “Can’t those people get a room at the inn?” Even if they appreciated that the miracle of life taking place, they could not have appreciated its full significance.
Then there is the Eucharist. Physically, no one can see the change that occurs as bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, yet we trust God that this is taking place.
The fact is, miracles happen everyday that we don’t recognize. We may even participate in them and have no idea. Sometimes we need to just do what God asks without expecting to be rewarded, even with the gift of seeing someone’s faith awaken. We need to trust God that if we do His will, good will come from it.
(Incidentally, I plan to blog about this separately, but I did have an incredible spiritual experience of my own yesterday on a day trip to Mission San Juan Capistrano. God doesn’t always speak to us in the places where we’re expecting to hear His voice. Sometimes He likes to surprise us.)