A Little Light, A Big Legacy

Jean Vanier died last week. You may not know his name or what he committed his life to but you should.

More than 50 years ago, he started the L’Arche movement of care for the mentally handicapped. Before Vanier came along, these people most likely would have lived in sanitariums and treated more like animals than human beings. Vanier decided to take a few into his home and treat them with tenderness, with love, and with a sense of openness to learn from them as much as they might learn from him. Today, L’Arche is all over the world and is a reminder of our need to love people that we find different, that annoy us, that might even disgust us.

Vanier never wanted L’Arche to be a franchise of facilities. Instead, he referred to L’Arche as a “sign not a solution.” I love that. Why must we constantly find methods, programs, and solutions when reality shows us that quick fixes rarely come and the true value is in the present, where God is and does his work.

Vanier says about L’Arche, “I don’t want to change the world, but I can change myself. We can be little lights of love. L’Arche can be little places where people love each other and never hit the headlines but that is okay.”

A quote from his book, Becoming Human

Vanier loved the word “little.” In an interview with Krista Tippitt, he stated that, “What is important is to become a little friend of Jesus.” What I think that means is to find a simplicity in Jesus and his approach to his life and ministry. To find friendship in Jesus’ presence and guidance and ways of living. If you have ever worked with the mentally handicapped, you know this kind of little friendship of big hugs, warm smiles, words of endearment, and pats on the head.

It is also important to lessen our drive to understand everything. Vanier would say that we are not intended to know everything and, in fact, our knowledge could be a detriment to us doing what we truly need to do. “If we know too much, it might cut us away from being present and available,” Vanier said.

Vanier has taught us to accept what we can’t understand and to not miss an opportunity to love what is right in front of us:

“We should love reality and not live in the imagination of what could have been and what should have been. God is present in reality and we can live that reality with the needs we have. We can trust God in that reality.”

If you want to hear more from Vanier, I couldn’t recommend this interview highly enough. I have listened to this three or four times in the last few weeks. He expounds on the equilibrium that handicapped people bring to society, the need for tenderness, and the vulnerability of God. Listen to it now.

What You Cannot Do

Have you ever thought about the power that man has?

Man can create, organize, build, and achieve but man can also destroy. Man’s power to destroy is constantly on display. From bomb marked city-scapes to scandals that take down entire corporations, there seems no end to man’s power to destroy. Man can also destroy marriages, friendships, families, and themselves.

Frederick Buechner points out that man’s power, as great as it is, only works from the outside, externally. “A man has power from the outside to push, pull, prod, and mold other men to his liking, for his good or for theirs, but it is only the outside of these other men that his power can affect.” Buechner goes on to illustrate that the most powerful person in the world, as great as this person’s influence and control, still couldn’t satisfy the deepest longing of his own personal soul or that of anyone else’s. The longing that each of us has for love, for deep peace, and meaning can never be satisfied by man’s efforts, no matter the autonomy, freedom, or power. “All man’s power is powerless because at its roots, of course, the deepest longing of the human soul is the longing for God, and this no man has the power to satisfy.”

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán on Pexels.com

The Bible makes the bold claim that God is love. Dwell on that claim for a second. If this is true then all forms of love that we have as humans, as distorted as they may be, does not come from ourselves but are a reflection of God’s love. In other words, love is not one of man’s powers. Man can only yield its power externally but cannot reach into the heart, to our deepest selves, only God can do that. This is his power to satisfy and to bring true healing, to bring life-giving love, to hold things together, to restore.

Trying to operate in man’s power to achieve what only God can bring will only cause your world to feel small, closed in, and dark. But the power of God’s love expands your world, opens you up to receive love from others, brings light to the dark, helps you get up when you are down and generates peace when it is nowhere to be found.

Ultimately, which would you rather have? Man’s power or God’s power?