Several years ago, before we were married, my wife and I were on a road trip. We were traveling through the Midwest, from one camp site to another, one Midwestern city to another. And we were hungry.
“Cracker Barrel?” I suggested. She shrugged. There were not a lot of options.
I had never been to a Cracker Barrel before, and I’ve not been to one since, so I have very limited knowledge on the topic. But one thing I learned that day on that road trip somewhere in the landlocked Midwest was this: Don’t order the fish.
It seems obvious, really. There wasn’t a body of water for who knows how many miles. Cracker Barrel is known for Southern comfort foods like biscuits, fried chicken and things you smother in gravy. Not salmon. No one would mistake Cracker Barrel for, say, a Red Lobster.
But I wasn’t being mindful of where I was or of what where I was had to offer. So, I sat down at the table, picked up a menu and said, “How about this fish?”
Too often, we do the same thing in our lives. We demand of others what we want rather than what they have to give. We turn a blind eye to the unique gifts and talents, insights and experiences of the people in our lives. As a result, we too often see in others what they lack rather than who they are.
We demand that our friends and family serve us fish when they have spent all day preparing a delicious tray of corn muffins.
How we treat others is often an indicator for how we treat ourselves – the inverse of that great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. If we expect others to live up to an impossible standard, we’re likely burdening ourselves with that same expectation. Rather than assess those unique skills and experiences we bring to the table – and recognize the necessary gaps in our own knowledge – we try to do it all. We aren’t mindful of what we can authentically contribute.
When we fail to recognize our own limitations, we consequently fail to truly honor and make good use of our gifts.
As we live out our vocation each and every day, trying to heed the whispering of the Spirit and sort good desires from unhelpful ones, we would do well to recognize – to even embrace – our necessary limitations.
In so doing, we deepen our understanding of the person God has invited us to be.
In God’s peace,
Deputy Director of Communications
Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States