Life of a true disciple: ‘I am, because we are’

These last few months, I have been blessed with many situations and people through my ministry, through my family and through my day-to-day life that have me reflecting on a couple of questions I continue to ask myself over and over.

Elizabeth Neville
Elizabeth Neville

Maybe it’s because I am turning 50, or maybe it’s because I’m questioning my value and presence on this earth.

So here’s the big first question: “Who am I?”

Well, I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a co-worker, a cantor, a child of God. But who am I really? How do I describe myself to someone I don’t know?

At a recent dialogue session with Christian and Muslim friends, I learned that through the Quran my question of ‘Who am I?’ is answered as, “I am, because we are.”

That statement struck me like a lightning bolt! Who, then, are the “we”? What about me?

We’re all key players

You and I know that God created us to play a very specific role in his unfolding story. He didn’t create us to just stand on the sidelines or sit idly by and watch the story unfold. He created you and me to be the key players on the field, not just someone to keep the bench warm.

God also created everyone else — our neighbors both near and far, our brothers and sisters who are of the same color as we and those who are not, our friends who speak the same language as we and those who do not, our classmates who dress the same as we and those who do not, our co-workers who eat the same foods as we and those who do not — to be the key players on the field right alongside us.

The unfortunate thing is that fear often holds us back and keeps us standing on the sidelines, not allowing us to live a life of love and acceptance of ourselves, of others and inevitably of God.

Meeting someone new can often make us apprehensive and afraid and can even create some conflict as we learn to understand each other. Through these encounters with others, however, we are touched by their grace and there is no going back to being just a plain human being. That is love.

All of these tensions and fears we might feel need to be revealed and resolved so that nothing remains and lingers but love. Love strips us of any privilege we might have or feel, and we thankfully all become equal. Love blurs the boundary between races, cultures and religions. Love is the uniform language of all. Love allows us to come down from our place of safety and security where we can address everyone’s presence and see everyone as Christ.

Pope Francis says in “Evangelii Gaudium,” “Whenever we encounter another person in love, we learn something new about God.” We all need to feel the surprise, wonder and joy of love. There is no need to fear anymore, no need to run away or stand on the sidelines.

Loving discipleship

OK, second big question: “Am I a good disciple?”

Well, I haven’t given up everything yet to follow Christ and walk away from my life here with only the clothes on my back and shoes on my feet. But I have learned that:

Discipleship requires loving and accepting everyone, every day.

Discipleship needs to be a lifestyle choice, a way of being.

Discipleship requires humility, gratitude, generosity and openness.

Discipleship asks us to lead with grace and love, where we always pay attention and are alert to those around us.

Discipleship asks us to initiate ideas and make things happen, so that relationships can be established and walls of prejudice and misunderstanding can be broken down.

Discipleship means to be inclusive of all, not exclusive of some.

But what a hard and difficult task when we go at this alone! Christ sent the first disciples out two by two because he knew there was strength in numbers. Discipleship brings many voices speaking together, many hands working together, and many feet walking together celebrating moments that are acts of love.

Children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts and uncles — all are disciples according to their capacity. Being a disciple means to serve, serve and serve again as well as love, love and love again.
Who am I? I am, because we are.

Elizabeth Neville is director of the St. Cloud Mission Office.

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The Visitor is the official newpaper for the Diocese of Saint Cloud.

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