Who’s the VIP on Your Tally Sheet?

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

We often contrast activity and passivity. We identify activity as a sign of life and vigor. We regard passivity as an indication of lethargy and inadequacy. Activity indicates agency and achievement. Passivity suggests dependency and overall sluggishness.

If we wanted a collaborator in a project, we would look for signs of initiative in such a partner; a self-starter would recommend him- or herself to us. There would be a need for indications of competency in the kind of person we are looking for, and independence, or at least signs of a collaborative spirit: an initiator, as we often say.

We certainly wouldn’t want to align ourselves with another who, far from helping us in a project, is in need of a push him- or herself. That would increase our workload, adding to the project at hand the further task of pushing a very lethargic person.

While all this is true, it doesn’t cover the entirety of the “waterfront” that we traverse, so to speak. Because, upon reflection, we recognize that a good portion of our lives is taken up with “passive” type people, and, somewhat reluctantly, we acknowledge that this is more or less undesirable. Indeed, we may have to admit that there are some dearly treasured incidents in our lives where the passivity and dependency of others has enriched our lives, and done for us something that we ourselves could not bring into our lives, not even with the help of capable others at our side.

This reminds us, for instance, of our association with “the little people” in our lives: the children, the infants, the under-developed or highly dependent relationships that we have had. We must admit that memories of such are not all bad or unpleasant. In fact, it would be a serious misstatement to say so. Take the infant example of especially the newborn. There’s not much efficiency or initiative in a baby. In fact, there’s none at all, other than an often powerful pair of lungs, which, as a matter of fact, is a call alerting us, proving highly effective.

It is these little people who, in the long run, may actually meet our needs more than high efficiency experts. This is because they do something for us that the “more competent” people among our entourage cannot do. They evoke from us some redeeming aspects about ourselves of which we may not been aware, not so much in terms of helping us getting a job well done, but rather, in terms of leading us to become the kind of person we may have thought we couldn’t become.

As a result, a newly discovered and mutual dependency can evolve between ourselves and, for instance, a baby. While the young one, of course, is dependent on us for food, clothing and warmth, we, in our turn, become dependent on the baby for a sense of humanness, tenderness, support, comfort and caring concern, that otherwise we might never have been able to achieve. A mutuality of dependence can grow between us; the baby needing us for survival needs, at one level, while our needing the baby for another level of survival needs. We discover the ability to provide and exhibit elements of loving care and concern within ourselves that otherwise might have forever eluded us, never having made their appearance within us. Then add in the experience of trust, confidence, contentment and security that to our surprise the young one receives from this association with us , surprisingly affirming who we are, and revealing our better selves—a lesson not to be gained in other venues or quarters.

Perhaps that is why God chose to take this route in making His appearance among us: not emerging as an ambitious entrepreneur or brilliant intellectual but in the guise of a harmless little creature who can be easily disregarded and/or dismissed from our consciousness. God is gambling on our response mechanisms to this different kind of scenario. After all, He made us, so He has a pretty good idea as to how we perform and operate. He knows the power that an infant can exert over an adult.

So, in tallying up the kinds of helpful and significant people we want to have around us as we make our mark in life, while obviously grateful for whatever help some of the movers and shakers of society can make available to us, we may stumble upon the surprising discovery that, in our inventory of very important persons on my tally sheet, I value and cherish the little people who manage to evoke from me qualities I never knew I had: hidden assets that will stand me in good stead when the final assessment is taken of my life, with its assets and liabilities. We certainly don’t want to come up short in the column noting the humanizing components that these little ones can educe from the often complex and complicated composite that I am.

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Author: CPP

We are a community of laymen and laywomen who, with vowed Passionists, seek to share in the charism of St. Paul of the Cross through prayer, ongoing spiritual formation, and proclamation of the message of Christ Crucified.

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