by Erica Heinekamp
It’s in the soul of a mother raising her young children. A young man at the office sitting at his desk everyday. The question is there in the midst of the studies of a seminarian or grad student. It’s in the hearts of teachers who are living summer break. It’s with the 250 young adults at Theology on Tap last week and the 8 with me at Mass this morning. It’s a question for the despairing AND the hopeful alike: “What am I looking for?”
Be careful that the answer isn’t too automatic. We’re not answering “What are you looking for?” like a computer answering “What’s 2 X 2?”
Attention, everyone: What you’re looking for is JESUS!!!! There. I answered it. Do you feel better? Of course not. The problem is we’re still hurting, confused, and in some way, feel like we aren’t honoring such a meaningful, personally-diverse question with such a simple response.
I was at a regional meeting of leaders a few years ago for a Catholic lay movement called Communion and Liberation. The question was posed to us, “What does your community need?” It was their version of “What are you looking for?” We broke out into groups, discussed it with others and came back with our responses: We needed money, more cultural presentations, better discussions at our weekly meetings, new people. We said all the right things!
The priest in charge, Fr. Jose, in the midst of our responses, said, “I can see the future of the communities you lead by what you ask for. You are asking for things too small.” I’m not sure if on the outside I erupted, but on the inside I sure did. Asking for things TOO SMALL?!? What in the heck was I supposed to be asking for? (Let’s be honest, I probably didn’t say “heck.”)
Fr. Jose reminded us of the story of Abraham’s covenant with God. Abraham and Sarah asked the Lord for a child–one child–to be an heir that would inherit the land that the Lord had given them. You know the story. God has a plan to make Abraham’s descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and needs Abraham and Sarah’s faithfulness and trust for this plan to unfold–starting with the birth of Isaac.
I would argue that the miracle of this story was NOT the overabundant nation that a barren Abraham and Sarah received. God knew Abraham’s heart. Satisfaction wouldn’t come with a child. Nations of thousands wasn’t even the answer. That, in fact, was too small. It was a direct, personal relationship and dependence on God through LIVED experience that Abraham was seeking. God provided that through His covenant–and Abraham experienced being known to his depths for a lifetime.
I was at a lunch many years ago with a dear friend who understood the human heart very well because of his own relationship with Christ. I was in the midst of living a tough breakup with a great man whom I wanted to marry. This friend looked at my heartbroken self and said, “Erica, this guy couldn’t fill your heart.” Then, he teared up with love for me and corrected himself by saying, “Erica, ONE THOUSAND guys couldn’t fill your heart.” This moment stands out as one where I felt loved and understood to my core. Even though I didn’t know HOW it was true, I knew what he told me about my dignity was what I desperately wanted to believe about myself.
Seven years later, I’m still falling into the trap of asking for things too small. Maybe this eating plan/workout schedule/prayer regimen/boyfriend/spiritual director/housemate will provide me what I want. Then, I remember the “1,000 guys” comment and realize I can’t wrap my head around my infinite desire (and Who it points to) at all. How is it possible that my need for love is so great? Who can possibly respond to that need? What did Abraham and my friends know that allowed them to trust that fulfillment is beyond what we can measure? Instead, what I am looking for is in a very specific Relationship with He who gave me desire in the first place!
By paying attention to these “smaller” needs and questions, we begin to explore a semblance of the answer. Let’s be clear. I ask for small things all the time and it’s not wrong. I want a good job. I want authentic community. I want a husband! And you can insert any other thing you want from your particular life experience. These things we are looking for are real aches, in fact. So much so that when they seem to not be fulfilled, we hurt–much like Abraham and Sarah in waiting for their own child. Only in letting ourselves ache can we start to see the Origin of the ache.
Far too often, I don’t want to feel desire. It’s uncomfortable and uncontrollable. It feels like something that needs to be fixed in me. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our infinite desire is the cord pulling (sometimes yanking) us towards our Savior. He promises the hundredfold just like He did in His relationship with Abraham. We DO get a taste of this fulfillment here on Earth. He has mercy despite our lack of intelligence in front of our own hearts. But, that path is your own. I could never describe your journey of discovering or uncovering a relationship with Him in everyday life. There is no rule book. No six step plan. You are asking for things too small.
Don’t be a robot with the answer, “Jesus,” to the question “What are you looking for?” Trust Him enough to allow a relationship with Him. Bring Him your questions, heartaches, and plans in all of its messy glory. Let Him pull you with the cords of desire. Go ahead and cry out and beg for understanding. Let Him bring you closer to His heart so you can understand–through real life experience–your own. In prayer and through community, I’ll be living it right with you.
Erica (middle right) with her siblings, is a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist and has been a part of our young adult community for many years. She has worked as a teacher for 10 years and will start teaching 2nd grade at St. Joan of Arc this August. Erica leads the Communion and Liberation movement here in Indy and lives at the St. Catherine of Alexandria women’s formation house. Our community wouldn’t be the same without her!