Tuesday, July 8, 2014

With One Foot Raised

Part of Ignatian (St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus / the Jesuits) spirituality cultivates the philosophy of indifference in order to confidently change and adapt to meet the needs of any situation. Called living with "one foot raised", this approach embodies a freedom from attachment to places, things, programs and even people in order to move, adapt, improve, shift and/or modify as needed. Some may consider this to be a cold and heartless way of living. It is necessary, however, so as to listen to God's call and truly follow His plan. While there is immense good that can come from ownership and collective buy-in, an "it's mine" attitude also fosters pride, selfishness, stubbornness and emotion that can impede progress.
St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, image courtesy of Creative Commons.

Jesus charges His disciples, "'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed Him (Matthew 4:19)." He calls and they follow. The first disciples left behind the only life they ever knew and followed the call of Christ. They lived with "one foot raised" being willing to drop their nets and embrace a new way of life without hesitation, without remorse, without regret.

Jesus called; they followed. 

This indifference is essential to adhering to God's will and being a successful educator. Throughout my formation as a Catholic educator, two pieces of indifferent advice have consistently resonated with me. The first, from former Associate Superintendent and long-time educator within the Diocese of St. Petersburg Helen Martson, came to me during a session for those who were discerning a call to move into Catholic school administration. "You will have to solve countless problems as an administrator," Mrs. Marston told us. "But, so long as the problems aren't caused by you, distance yourself from the emotion when having to solve them." Solve the problem, don't own it (unless, once again, you have caused it).

The second came during my time in the Mary Ann Remick Leadership Program at the University of Notre Dame from Fr. Ron Nuzzi. While telling a story about being an administrator and working within what is often a very emotional environment, Fr. Nuzzi exclaimed, "It's not about you!" It can't be. Teachers must heed this advice, too. It can't be about the adults in the educational process - administrators, teachers, parents - but must be about the kids. We must be indifferent when it comes to issues surrounding our students - instructional improvements, parenting advice, fielding negative comments, pointing fingers or placing blame - and the good of the children must remain a focus.

Becoming a parent myself, I have come to further understand "living with one foot raised". As my kids get older and as I come to love them more and more, I always try to remember that they are not mine. They are a gift from God. I understand this every time I realize that I can't control them, even at their ripe ages of 1 and 3. I know this more intimately as they continue to enhance their own independence, a trend that will only continue as they grow older and older. When anger swells and frustration mounts, recognizing that God has blessed me with an opportunity to be a parent helps to refocus my attention away from my pride or anger or need for control back to Catherine and Elizabeth.

As a parent, it's not about me. 

Finally, my own aging has also helped me to more fully understand that every good thing is from God  and that none of it is mine. It's His and He has graciously blessed me with it. Whether that's health or an amazing wife or wonderful kids or a worthwhile job or a house or car or clothing or food or outstanding parents or supportive siblings or a blog - none of it is mine. It's His and as such I must be willing to live with one foot raised, ready for the next step of His call for me and able to change, adapt and transform as He deems necessary.

St. John the Baptist, the greatest among those born of women according to Jesus, famously remarked, "He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30). John lived with one foot raised and one hand pointing toward Jesus. He graciously pointed his disciples toward Jesus. John understood that none of it was his, but rather all of it was God's.

It's not about you or me. May we have the strength, courage and humility to live with one foot raised so as to follow the One that it is about - God.