I’ve been thinking about Jesus.
That might seem like an obvious statement since I am a nun but I actually get caught up just as much as the rest of you in the run-on sentence of life’s never-ending to-dos. Some days I feel like I am holding my breath until I get in bed at night and go to sleep. And then it starts all over again.
In the midst of the busyness I do pray. As a religious, I am lucky to have time set aside for prayer. But this time can also seem hurried, full of thoughts about the future, and tight-chested breathing. Sometimes I get up from prayer and ruefully say, “Sorry Jesus” as I walk out the door to enter once again into the chaos.
This is the ebb and flow of the spiritual life, at least of mine.
Sometimes everything seems right. God is close. Time seems to wait for me to catch my breath.
At other times, nothing seems right. Time seems to be running ahead of me, and I am unsure of everything, even God himself.
I have been in the ebb of the spiritual life lately. Things have been tough.
Except for my meditations on the Gospel every morning.
There’s something about Jesus.
Every morning I open the day’s Gospel and an aspect of his personality that I never seemed to really notice has been jumping out at me.
It started with a radio show about rats.
The other day I listened to an episode of “This American Life” which discussed studies that have found that people’s thoughts about rats can actually influence how the rats behave. In these studies rats were put in races. But before the race began, the person handling the rats was told either that the rat was smart or stupid. There was no difference between the rats, but the “smart” rats performed twice as well as the “stupid” rats.
And this research can actually apply to people as well.
From the show:
Research has shown that a teacher’s expectations can raise or lower a student’s IQ score, that a mother’s expectations influences the drinking behavior of her middle schooler, that military trainers’ expectations can literally make a soldier run faster or slower.
I recommend listening to the entire show, it’s fascinating.
And all this made me think to myself, “How much am I influenced by the thoughts and nonverbal communication of others?”
One simple example is that I have the enviable problem of always being thought younger than I am. Of course, that is nice sometimes. But not so nice when people think I am a teenager and I am actually approaching my mid-thirties. But this made me wonder if peoples’ thoughts about my age actually influence how I behave. Unfortunately, they probably do. And this is just one thing. There are many, many ways that other people can influence my behavior. I am most likely unconsciously responding to many nonverbal cues. It’s a scary thought. How much of our behavior is conditioned by the expectations and negative (or positive) thoughts of those around us? It prompted me to ask the age-old question: “How free are we really?”
So, back to Jesus.
I think Jesus would have been an anomaly in these studies. His behavior, I have begun to notice, was not influenced by the expectations of others. An example of this is the Gospel of the man with the withered hand (Mk 3:1-6).
Mark tells us that Jesus entered the synagogue and the Pharisees “watched him closely to see if he would cure him on the sabbath so that they might accuse him.” Jesus, in the midst of the Pharisees’ conniving thoughts says “to the man with the withered hand, ‘Come up here before us.'”
Now, I asked myself, “Did Jesus do that just to spite the Pharisees? Was this an in-your-face a-ha ‘I’ll Show You’ moment?”
As I thought about it I realized that Jesus did exactly what he would have done had the Pharisees not been there. Like any normal person, Jesus responds to the situations and people around him, but unlike normal people he does not react to negativity and conniving as most of us would, by either running, showing aggression or losing confidence:
Then [Jesus] said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?” But they remained silent. Looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out and his hand was restored. (Mk 3:4-5)
Even though Jesus felt anger at the Pharisees he still does not heal in anger, he heals because he is Healer.
In the story of the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus heals her without even knowing that he has healed her:
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” (Mk 5: 30)
I guess what I have been noticing is that Jesus, rather than responding to the thoughts and pressures of those around him, responds to something much deeper. Rooted in the Holy Spirit, Jesus acts as the First Mover, the Creator of the Universe, not as someone easily moved to behave in the ways that others want or expect.
And at the same time, while Jesus is entirely capable of acting solely out of his union with the Father, he also responds in compassion to the people around him. While he does not allow the conniving of the Pharisees to prevent him from healing, he does allow peoples’ desires for healing and for love to move him toward the people around him.
So all this leads me to pray:
Jesus, help me to be rooted in you when I respond to those around me.
Help me to detach myself from expectations, negative thoughts from myself and others, and attach myself to you.
Help me become an anomaly like you, someone entirely moved and influenced by the Father’s will, not my own or the will of others around me.