Growing up in a city of 200,000 people and moving to Berlin, a city of four million has been a crazy adventure! I didn’t know it was possible to have 4 Ikeas in one city?! AMAZING. I had also never drove on a highway with four lanes before. Fun and terrifying all wrapped up in one driving adventure. The lessons I am learning while here are countless. From simple things like new driving rules to more complicated culture changes… everyday is an adventure. I am sure any expat would share the joys and difficulties of the transition period. I definitely underestimated culture schock. As a person who loves traveling and experiencing new things, I figured this move was a piece of cake. But its been a huuuge eye opener for me.
Take for instance the topic of poverty. Not only have I been confronted by the materially poor, but also the poor in spirit. I have witnessed so many sad, angry and lonely people while being here. Living in a big city can be a blessing, but many people seem to be forgotten. Isolated. No hi’s, thank you’s or eye contact has an effect on us after a while. The other day I also caught myself in the typical ‘grumpy berliner attitude’ when some students took a seat beside me and forced me to move all my books, homework and backpack from the seat where I was studying. When they saw my reaction, they felt terrible and wanted to move seats. I could hardly believe myself. Wait, what? You are actually getting angry that these people are sitting beside you… on PUBLIC transportation?! I tried to cover up my first reaction by being more friendly and thankfully convinced them to stay. But this moment has stayed with me since then.
In Canada, rarely did I have such a negative reaction to strangers. There was a different sort of stranger policy. Everyone was polite to everyone. That’s just how it was. After the episode on the train, I realized that I was letting the berliner attitude rub off on me too much. Unfortunately, over the past few months I have rarely seen friendly encounters on public transportation. Most times, everyone is busy with their own lives, stuck on their iphone and they don’t want to deal with another person who is in their personal bubble. And actually, I can understand that perspective. I have dealt with some strange, stinky and upsetting people on the train. But even still, we must not let that attitude keep us from loving. From being kind. I think these small gestures like smiling as you let someone take that empty spot beside you, or moving your bag so someone has more space, or letting the old granny take your seat, is a remedy against the poverty of spirit. Its definitely not the easy way, but I think its the way that brings light and joy and peace into our day and the day of those around us. Even if just for a train ride.
On this rainy afternoon I find myself slightly melancholic and over contemplative (also procrastinating homework). It seems as though these gray skies have a way of inspiring more reflection than usual. I find myself pondering the theme of loneliness which is a common side effect of rainy days I suppose. We all experience loneliness in one way or another. For some, its the absence of friends, for others its the consuming demands of a job that keep us away from loved ones. Some find themselves living away from their homes for work, school, love… but we all experience loneliness. Even if we are surrounded by people, we can still feel alone at times. Why? I suppose because our friends, parents, siblings, boyfriends/girlfriends, husbands/wives are not meant to fulfill us completely. There is someone else who has this task. He is the ultimate Lover in our lives. He really plants truth, freedom, joy, acceptance and purpose deep into our hearts. Of course, others are meant to bless us and reflect the love of Christ in our lives. But no matter how wonderful these men and women are, they can’t fill the void of loneliness that we all have in our hearts. I have always heard that God has to take the first place in my life, but in practice this is really difficult. How quickly we expect others to make us happy. Making internal demands for the perfect words and actions of others around us. When they don’t meet our expectations, we are left feeling hurt, disappointed and even defeated. Its incredible how easily this kind of attitude can seep into our lives, and how it can really wound our relationships.
I guess the purpose of this blog today is a reminder that God is really the only one who fulfills those lonely parts of our hearts. He is the path to joy. When we find ourselves in our room, our office, a party, a family dinner and we feel empty; God is there. He is calling out to us, and he wants to enter into those places that feel cold. He wants to be central. He wants to bring warmth and life. He wants to overwhelm us with everything we need and desire! At the same time, He gives us an understanding of what it means to live in relation with others. Life isn’t about being served. Its about service. The Gospel for today was exactly that; ‘ …It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matthew 20: 26-28). When God takes ownership of our hearts, we no longer dwell in loneliness, because we know we are not alone. We then start to change our expectations of others. We accept our weakness and our poverty. Just as we cannot love others perfectly, they too cannot love us perfectly. And once this is understood, we turn to He who can and does love perfectly. He who came to serve and not be served. He who loved until the end. This is where I want to find fulfillment. O Sacred Heart of Jesus, let us abide in you where there is perfect love. In you we find peace. In you we are never alone. Amen.