Unconditional love – and lice

This article appears in the Notes from the Field feature series. View the full series.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras — From Global Sisters Report: Notes from the Field is our summer blogging project. Working with the Catholic Volunteer Network, we’ve enlisted four young women working in ministries of Catholic sisters around the world – Honduras, Thailand, Ethiopia and the United States – to blog about their experiences.

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You will find that it is necessary to let things go; simply for the reason that they are heavy.

 - C. JoyBell C.

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I started my first job monitoring a resort pool at the age of 16. While I became an expert at folding towels, I quickly realized that, out in the real world, there are a lot of tough situations to navigate and a like number of difficult people to go with them. As I’ve continued to mature and to have a variety of jobs and relationships, I think it’s finally sinking in: We will often find ourselves in situations with people who test our patience and our abilities to calmly manage whatever life throws at us.

If I had a dollar for every time I called my parents, frustrated about how best to work with a difficult person God placed in my life, I’m sure I’d be rich. My dad once told me, “Kirsten, think about how you’re being prepared. You might not like it very much right now, but the Lord has the bigger picture in mind. In the future, you’re going to need this patience that’s being tested, so make sure that you’re learning how to respond and how to cope positively.”

For me, difficult people are the ones who push my buttons and go out of their way to aggravate me and annoy others. The majority of the time, if I can see that their reasons for being bothersome have an actual point, I can get past it. But I would wager that we’ve all met that person who just gets under our skin and seems to be doing it “just because.”

Who knew that God had a few of these people for me in Honduras? I had hoped that perhaps here the awkward moment in a strained relationship would simply be lost in translation, and I would be free of conflict. And I admit I fell victim to an assumption that nuns always get along with each other. I should have known better though. I came to Honduras to build relationships. So here I am, learning that sometimes we are tested and pushed to the breaking point, only to realize that we don’t have the luxury of breaking. So far, I’ve managed to find that one last drop or two of patience in the reserves.

I was warned right off the bat that some of the internas, the girls who live with us during the week, are more complex than the cute face they put on for new people and visitors. Longer-term volunteers told me to watch out for their tricks and attitudes. At first, I didn’t have too many run-ins with these dynamics, but this year, it’s been a whole new story. 

Just this week I had to physically remove Mercedes, a fourth-grader, from my classroom. She refused to observe the “no talking during a test” rule and proceeded to say each answer out loud to the rest of the class. When I called her on it, she declined to leave the room of her own accord and showed no signs of letting go of her seat – which she had locked herself into with a death grip. I chose to do the only thing left; I grabbed hold of the seat back and drug her out into the corridor, chair and all. Looking back, it would have been hilarious to watch this episode as a fly on the wall. At the time, though, I was calm on the outside and completely throttled inside.

Sometimes they can best be compared to Sour Patch Kids: First they’re sour, then they’re sweet. They have the power to break my heart in one moment and melt it in the next – a superpower that only children possess, I’m sure.

As a volunteer here, I’m learning the true meaning of unconditional love. By definition, it’s absolute. It’s not limited by any conditions. No condition like, “If you continue to be disobedient, I won’t give you a hug next time you fall and scrape your knee.” No condition like, “I won’t keep trying to help you mature, if you keep pushing us to the breaking point.” No condition like, “I’ll do your hair in the morning only if you can get rid of all your lice.”

Yes, that last one sounds a little off, but follow me with this analogy for a second. When was the last time God really turned away from you? The answer is never. Despite all our failings and struggles, the Lord always finds a way to forgive us and help us learn a lesson from our transgressions. And yet, sometimes our sins seem to just keep multiplying, until we’re picking them out of our lives like lice our of our hair. Not only is it risky to let things go unchecked, but it takes a lot more effort to comb those mistakes out of our lives. With constant vigilance and a lot of care, it’s easier to keep our sins to a minimum. In fact, God will even help keep them at bay.

This week, I have a challenge for you. Do some soul searching. Examine your relationships with the people you encounter on a daily basis – at home, at work, in your free time. Is your love for them unconditional? If so, how can you let them know? If not, how can you pick up the comb? Have the courage to pick the lice out of your relationships. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s a big piece of humble pie, but it is worth it. I promise.

Note:  Lice are a very unfortunate reality here. I wish I could say that I managed to escape their wrath, but when you live in such close proximity to so many little girls who have them, it’s inevitable. The first one I found on my head made me retch. Not to worry, though; with regular checks, I’ve kept them under control.

[Kirsten Rotz is volunteering among the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians (Salesian Sisters) in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.]

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