Friday, March 23, 2012

The Power of Being Watched

"Nearly everybody is looking for something brave to do. I don't know why people shouldn't write poetry. That's brave." -Robert Frost.

I have loved this quote from Robert Frost for many years. I know that feeling of looking for something brave to do, something I can do that will be good, even, glorious. I always felt that the point of Frost's comment was not so much about poetry as it is about having faith that our small, inner acts of goodness actually matter. We don’t all write poetry, but we do all have the power to influence the world for the better through our smallest actions and decisions.

We are almost always surrounded by people. Folks are always watching us. No one actually knows what to do and how to do it all the time. Everyone is wondering how to live, how to live better, how to be happier. And we all are watching the people around us for clues.

The idea that people are watching can be scary if we feel we are going to be judged, our weaknesses seen and noticed. In fact, maybe that's what most people would think of first when thinking of being watched. But, I've come to feel that being seen and watched gives us great power. If we think of being seen as an opportunity to communicate with others by our actions, we can do a lot of good. It's also a great way to get over fears about being seen!

One of the things people most long for is a way to be useful. Sometimes we search and search, feeling unfulfilled in the quest for how to actually be useful. But God has given us a way to be useful constantly. It is to be aware that every day, as we live our lives we have an audience. We have an audience of interested listeners, hearts who are looking for insight into the mystery of life.

The thing to do is to find the courage to really live our best ideas. In fact, at any given moment, what you have to offer the world is the best ideas you have encountered – your loves, your enthusiasm, your passions. When we do this, we are useful. As we live our loves, putting our best efforts into solving our own problems with virtue, courage, and faith, we are a model for others. As we solve our own problems, as we fight our own battles, striving to be good, we are serving those around us by being an example. And, as we do this, it becomes clear that the good things our lives are bringing out are not from us personally, but from God.

There is no time when this kind of service is not possible. I work as a chaplain in a jail in Boston. Sometimes I speak with men who are struggling with how to be feel useful while they are incarcerated. It is especially pressing when one of them is looking at an extended sentence. A question that each heart asks is, "How can I be worth anything if I am locked up?"

I have seen that question be answered beautifully as men in this position have taken to heart the fact that even in jail, they are surrounded by others watching, learning, hoping. One of the most inspiring sights I have seen was a young man of about 21 years, who had just received a 20 year sentence – After having spent a year or so deeply studying the Bible, and giving his life over to God, he intimated to me that he knew that his purpose was to teach and live the Word of God, right there in prison. He would not allow his God-given power to contribute be taken from him.

We all have this power, today. The world is in need of models. Models of courage, persistence, patience, and the whole spectrum of virtues. In fact, what is the world more desperately in need of than these? And yet, they are right there, in our hearts, ready for us to use them. Just like everything worth doing, it's not easy – but the payoff is enormous!

One may say, "I am not courageous! I don't feel persistent! I don't have patience!" But, the thing is, everyone else has that voice working in them too. Everyone else is suffering under the influence of those same fears, and doubts. Think of how much the rest of the world needs proof that courage exists. Think of how powerful it is to see someone actually be courageous. We have the power to give that gift to someone else. Maybe even a lot of people.

We all have the work of life ahead of us. That work is to do good, to be better and better, to love others and to love God. I have found it a great help to realized that as I fight my battles honestly, and with the whole array of virtues, to the very best of my ability, I am not only helping myself, I am helping others as well. The world needs each of us to write the courageous poem of our lives, for the sake of those around us.


  1. Great entry; especially like the last sentence, which your life itself backs up ! So appreciate your example Alex!