Breaking Out of the Bubble
It was about ten years ago that I was sitting in my air-conditioned office at work and thinking, “I am in a bubble.” It was a really nice bubble. I was 21, I had my own computer, a little corner to myself, work that wasn’t too difficult, and a nice salary that allowed me a lot of little luxuries I had never had before. I had a coffee machine, nice bathrooms, and the luxury of not being affected by the sweltering heat outside. I didn’t have to interact with too many people, which worked just fine for me since I am a bit of an introvert. So what was the problem?
The curse of a comfortable life—a heart that had become numb, comfortably numb. For years I had felt a desire to give more, love more, serve more; but now at the age of 21, I was far from fulfilling that desire. I went to Mass every Sunday; I had a personal prayer time; I read the bible; I was involved with youth ministry in the Christian community I belonged to; and yet my life seemed to lack something.
In 2015, Pope Francis encapsulated what I had felt when he spoke at the canonization of St. Junipero Serra: “We don’t want apathy to guide our lives… or do we? We don’t want the force of habit to rule our life… or do we? So we ought to ask ourselves: What can we do to keep our heart from growing numb, becoming anesthetized?”
That year I met a group of young American Catholic volunteers. They were visiting for the summer and there was something different about them. They were anything but apathetic. Instead, their lives glowed with zeal and joy. They seemed to have a burning love for Jesus, and for the poor. What was their secret?
Pope Francis continued in his homily: “How do we make the joy of the Gospel increase and take deeper root in our lives? Jesus gives the answer. He said to his disciples then and he says it to us now: Go forth! Proclaim! The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
God spoke that truth loud and clear to me that year. He said, “I know you. You were not made for a life of apathy. I want more FROM you, and I want more FOR you. I have a plan, but it means leaving the bubble of your comfort zone. Are you in?”
But was it possible for me to be different? I knew exactly how lazy, undisciplined, selfish, and hard-hearted I could be. Could God really break me out of that bubble? He said he could, but I needed to say my own yes. Like Mary, I received the grace to say, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”
The following year I left my job to teach at a village school. Two years later, in 2010, I became a full-time Catholic volunteer and I have been one for the past seven years. I have spent time preaching, teaching, visiting homes, praying with people, running retreats, organizing summer clubs for underprivileged children, making real friends with the poor, tutoring kids from the slum, and fundraising for poor students. I learned the truth: it was truly possible to live a life of JOY but only by giving it away.
“You are so young. Why are you doing this kind of work? You should be having fun!” I was once asked by an older Catholic lady. I was lost for words for a moment. How could I explain that this was a lie that most people buy into? The lie that fulfillment is found in a self-centered life, of endless parties, restaurants, shopping, and stuff (which seems to be a life that is easy to fall into when you’re young and earning), or in worldly acclaim, degrees, promotions, and achievements.
It was not true. Nothing could ever satisfy my heart as much as this simple life of Gospel poverty, real friends and community, meaningful service, and daily intimacy with Jesus. The quote that sums up my decision is from a Protestant missionary martyr to Ecuador named Nate Saint: “People ask me why I am wasting my life. I tell them ‘Everyone is wasting their life on something, and when the bubble of this earthly life bursts, what will they have left of eternal significance?’”
I am still a work in progress. God isn’t done with me yet. I still have to choose every day to give my life away, instead of running back to my comfort zone, and sometimes I fail. But this life has enabled me to discover and live the “joy of the Gospel.”
Have you ever felt this same restlessness and desire for something more? God is calling all of us to step out of our comfort zones and give ourselves away to a world that is hungry for love and salvation. Some are called to do it in the context of the home and work He has already given them. Many are called to step out of their flats and into the slums, to try something new. And some are called to give up everything, and serve Him in full-time ministry. Is God calling you?