(Photo credit to shame-full.com)
I’M BAAAACK!!! (in the States, that is.)
Don’t get me wrong; I loved my life in France. But one of the things I missed the most about America was my college’s Catholic community. I was reminded of how much I missed it three weeks ago during our Fall Retreat. Our theme for the weekend was community: what it is, how we could strengthen our bonds of community at our school, and how we could bring that same spirit of community to the rest of the world.
One of the most poignant and challenging talks of the weekend came from one of our new campus ministers. He talked about community through the lens of Jean Vanier’s book “Community and Growth.” Vanier is a Canadian Catholic theologian who founded L’Arche, a community for adults with developmental disabilities that has offshoots all over the world. One part of the book discusses enemies, or people we don’t like for one reason or another. How can we love them as God loves us? Vanier says that in order to build community throughout the world, we have to recognize that every single person has flaws and virtues alike.
During that section, one scene from Mean Girls played through my head. Cady (Lindsay Lohan) demands of Aaron Samuels what good he sees in his girlfriend, queen bee Regina George (Rachael McAdams). Aaron retorts with, “There’s good and bad in everybody. Regina’s just more up front about it.”
I think everyone can name one or two people in their lives who were their own Regina Georges — people who were just so mean and nasty that you couldn’t help but hate them. After our campus minister finished his talk, I realized how much of a grudge I still held for my own Regina Georges, even though hadn’t seen them since high school! I still associated anger, pain and malice with their memories because I had never found a constructive outlet through which I could express my feelings (and no, I’m not talking about hitting them over the head with a croquet mallet.) Anyone who knows me personally knows how much I hate confrontation. I just can’t do it. Even though these few individuals in high school were mean to me and to others, I could never bring myself to tell it to their faces. So I turned to God.
When I got back to my room that night, I wrote in my journal: “10 Things I Admire About ________” I made myself list 10 different things for each person. It was hard! I had to let go of my prejudices and see these people for who they really were: flawed human beings, yet beloved children of God. To each list, I added a bonus #11: “He/She is my brother/sister in Christ, therefore I should love them accordingly.” As soon as I finished, a wave of relief washed over me, as if my heart had just dropped a heavy burden that it had been carrying for many years. Jesus calls us to forgive one another, every single time, every single day. Believe me when I say forgiveness doesn’t just heal the person you forgive; it heals you, the forgiver.
Vanier also suggests that our enemies are a reflection of our own flaws: “Their presence seems to awaken our own poverty, guilt feelings and inner wounds; it seems menacing and brings out in us either aggression or a sort of fear and servile regression…Others bring out our envy and jealousy; they are everything we wish we were ourselves. Their presence reminds us of what we are not; their radiance and their intelligence underline our own poverty.”
When I looked over the lists I had made, the one trait that dominated them was confidence. These people knew their worth, and would walk into a room with their heads held high, talking to anyone and everyone with no trouble at all. These are traits that I don’t have. Therefore, I saw their confidence as arrogance and ridiculed them, thinking “I’m better than them because I tear myself down daily, become a wallflower at parties, and tell myself I’m not smart enough, pretty enough, etc.” That is a false sense of modesty. True modesty says “I am beautifully and wonderfully made, but not more or less so than anyone else in the world.”
So if you’re butting heads with your own Regina George, try making a list of his or her most admirable qualities. If you prefer, you can change #11 to: “This person is a human being, with both flaws and virtues. Therefore, I should treat them with the same amount of respect and love that I would show the person I love the most.” Even if it doesn’t change this person’s attitude toward you, it will change the way you act and think about them, and the world will be a little more peaceful for it. Remember, we are all human, and God loves us all.