physiology, spirituality

Living in Our Nazareths (+ Nashville Pics!)

A friend of mine is completing a World Race, a Christian ministry for young adults to serve the poor in 11 countries in 11 months. When she has WiFi, she’ll text her group of “My Favorite Catholics” (adorable group name, no!?) with amazing pictures from her destinations (India, Nepal, and now Vietnam), little stories of her ministry work, and even videos of her new daily life.

Being the sweetheart that she is, she’ll always ask us what’s new. My answer is always the same: working, grad school, and the only exciting thing I’ve done lately: Nashville. (Pics below!). It’s a bit humbling to realize despite my exciting life 2.5 years ago as a travel nurse, I now live quite the settled, routing, humdrum, boring life.

Yet, I feel called to so much more than what I’m doing right now! I am called to my own unique kind of greatness for Jesus as we all are. I’ve discerned that my personal mission will include being a wife, a mother, and some kind of advocate for the weak and vulnerable, but I feel like I’m just twiddling my thumbs over here, waiting for those days and opportunities to come!  Jesus, what are we waiting for!?

I’m the kind of gal who turns in her assignments at least a day early. Why put off until tomorrow what can be done today? Why wait to become a wife, a mother, etc. if I can start the process now? What can I do to get this ball a-rollin’!?

But whenever I pray about taking my life in a new, more exciting direction like doing a mission trip or moving or whatever, the answer is always a variation of  Rest, child. Rest.  To which my reaction is: WHAT!? How can this be!? Jesus, why are you TORTURING me!?

What is the good of sitting still in boring land when I could be out saving the world!? What is this, Jesus!? What is this!? I don’t learn when I’m resting!

Well, yes, that is true that we do not learn when we are resting, but true in a very misleading way. We learn when we are awake. When we sleep, we do not form new synapses and new connections in our brains. However, biologists Dr. Giulio Tononi and Dr. Chiara Cirelli found at the University of Wisconsin in 2003 (my alma mater!) that the brain prunes down its connections during sleep. This might sound like a bad thing, but it’s an essential function of our brain to forget.

Imagine if we remembered everything. Nothing would stand out as more important than something else! I’d remember the names and birthdates of my patients as much as my family and friends. That’s nice and great for my shift, but I don’t want to rememberJoe Schmoe’s date of birth when I’m writing birthday cards.  I want my family and friend’s birthdays to stick out because they’re more important to me than Joe Schmoe.

Dr. Graham Diering has further shown in his work on a protein called Homer1A at Johns Hopkins that our natural nighttime pruning is essential for us to function. Dr. Diering experimented on mice who were put in a maze and shocked in a particular chamber. That night, he injected a chemical to prevent synapse pruning (and prevent the function of Homer1A) into the brains of 1/2 of the mice. The next day, all the mice were scared in the hazardous chamber that shocked them and refused to move. However, the mice that were unable to prune their synapses were frozen the next day when they were placed in a safe chamber. They could not remember what chamber shocked them, and they were afraid to go exploring even though it was safe! The ordinary mice were able to function and explore, safely avoiding the hazardous chamber and recognizing they were in a safe spot. Diering continues his work and found that sleeping pills do not produce the same effect as normal sleep when it comes to synapse pruning.

Whew. That’s some science right there! Basically, rest is essential because it is good for our wellbeing and overall functioning to forget non-essential things. Imagine if we remembered every time someone was mean to us, or every time we failed at something during the day, or every little bad thing from every day, we’d be incredibly stressed when we woke up!

Rest is good for us and helps weed out what is essential from what is not. And so it is too in this weird, boring, just living-my-daily-life time. I’m learning living my daily life isn’t boring; it’s just Nazareth.

I first learned about the beauty of Nazareth from I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C. J. D’Elbée. Fr. D’Elbée uses the writings of St. Thérèse of Liseiux and his own experience to teach about God’s love and how to grow your confidence in His love as to learn what it actually means to abandon yourself to Divine Providence. Finding the book was providential in itself as I was really struggling to understand how God knew me better than myself! It’s still a struggle, obviously. 🙂

I imagine Nazareth to be a beautiful time of joy and rest in the life of Jesus. Ministry was a horribly stressful time where friends and strangers alike constantly interrupted Jesus’s time alone, but in Nazareth, He was nobody. There’s a beauty in being a nobody. Nobody harasses nobodies! I’m sure Jesus missed His idyllic life in Nazareth when the difficulties of His ministry set it.

Yet, Nazareth had its difficulties too! Fr. D’Elbée explains that Jesus’s apostolate functioned and how ours is modeled after it. He reminds us that Jesus’s ministry started in the very boring daily functions during His time in Nazareth.

In Nazareth, Jesus knew He was God! Jesus learned the trade of Joseph and labored in a humdrum life in a backwater town where people probably just thought He was a bum like the rest of them. But He knew He was the Son of God! Mary knew her son was God! And Joseph knew He was God! And yet they had to labor for their daily bread when Jesus could have snapped His fingers to make rocks into stone. How difficult that must have been to be frozen in a time in your life waiting your time of mission!

Yet, if it was essential for my Lord to live a time of Nazareth, who I am to say that I don’t need one too. if Jesus suffered a boring daily life in order to prepare Himself for ministry, dear Lord,  I must need to as well! But why!?

Fr. D’Elbée explains why Nazareth is so important in this little knowledge bomb:

“But you know, before the apostolate of word and action, there is the apostolate of prayer and suffering, without which the external apostolate would be nothing – nothing at all. Word and actions come only in the last place, after what I call the apostolate of silence in love, which was the great apostolate of Jesus and Mary at Nazareth for thirty years.”

– Fr. Jean C. J. D’Elbée, I Believe in Love

Without prayer and suffering in the silence of love, words and actions would be NOTHING!?

Golly, when Simeon told Mary at the presentation in Luke 2:34 that  Jesus would be “a sign of contradiction” he was not kidding!  In what sort of world does God hide Himself from His own people and purposefully delay His own mission!?

And being God, He was really good at hiding Himself. Jesus lived this hidden life in Nazareth so well that when He came back for the first time doing miracles and proclaiming the kingdom of heaven (aka doing his apostolate), his neighbors said, Isn’t this Joseph’s kid? Isn’t this Mary’s son? Where’d all this come from? (Matthew 13:54-57).

It’s like my college roommate’s reaction to hearing that the guy from our dorm freshman year who made her a fake ID to buy alcohol and who had alcohol cleverly hidden in his dorm room was now a 1st year resident doctor rotating through my department. What!? That kid!? No way!! as she laughed for about 5 minutes straight in disbelief.

(He’s actually quite good too. He’s very personable, kind to all the staff, and sweet to his patients. I’m glad he’s better at being a doctor than making fake IDs. Her ID would always scan as Juanito Jose Garcia and looked bogus, but she’d be able to buy alcohol anyways. I digress.)

Where else in the world do we talk more about interior disposition mattering than our external actions!? No where except everywhere in the Gospels and in the writings of the great saints and spiritual writers…which is probably why learning this in my own spiritual Nazareth of Milwaukee is so incredibly difficult and I am still living it after 2.5 years.

God did not create me to be good. He created me to be great.

Lord, oh, Lord, I am far from greatness! I gossip. I think poorly of others. I drive past homeless people without a second glance. I roll my eyes at my patients. I’m more likely to want to participate in a trauma for the adrenaline rush than to help out a person and am frequently tempted to disconnect in those difficult circumstances. I forget to call my parents. I forget birthdays and to follow-up with friends who I know are suffering. I hurt people and refuse to apologize. I’m more stubborn than I know what’s good for me.

And I pray every day to be given the opportunities to work on them, yet I continue to ignore them when the person and opportunity to work on humility, kindness, charity, mercy, patience, etc. is standing right in front of me and requiring my attention.

It’s a lie that we’re suddenly going to be great when everything is lined up like we imagine it to be. We actually become great when we embrace the small challenges present to us in our daily lives and strive to be faithful in the little moments that try us.

As one of my favorite authors, Fr. Walter Ciszek wrote,

“The kingdom of God will grow upon earth, will be brought to fulfillment, in the same way it was established: by the daily and seemingly hidden lives of those who do always the will of the Father.”

– Walter Ciszek, He Leadth Me

Fr. Ciszek is my “man, living in Nazareth is hard” spirit-friend. He greatly desired to minister as a priest to the Catholic scattered in the atheistic Soviet Union. God answer his prayer…by allowing him to be imprisoned and work in a labor camp for a combined 20 years before his ministry to the people he desperately desired to serve could even start! And that does not even count his years becoming a priest!

I remember being so struck by Fr. Ciszek unwavering courage at the end of his autobiography He Leadth MeHe was confronted by Soviet authorities to stop being a priest, and he refused! The pre-imprisonment, pre-labor camp, pre-living-in-a-place-worse-than-Nazareth Walter Ciszek would have not had that courage. Ciszek needed that time of hardship and failing and horrible difficult to build his character and spiritual strength to later fulfill the later mission he most desired.

And so, even though I am so ready to move onto another phase in my life, I know I’m living in my own kind of Nazareth for a purpose. I may not appreciate it now, but I trust that my heavenly Father is teaching me all that I need to learn exactly where I am.

As Mother Teresa once said, “God does not call us to be successful but to be faithful.” Lord knows I’m very unsuccessful in my personal goals at the moment, but He also knows I am working diligently to be faithful to Him in the smallest moments of every day while I’m living in this Nazareth.

(And here’s my little break from my Nazareth of Milwaukee, my one-exciting-trip-of-the-year update, NASHVILLE! Enjoy!)

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Some of the places we went:

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