And Who is My Neighbor?
Who is my neighbor? This is a question with which I have quietly struggled many times in my life. The motto of the Catholic School where I work is: See Christ in others, be Christ to others. At St. Catherine’s that can be challenging at times but in the world, it can feel nearly impossible.
My latest challenge has been working at a summer camp as the head counselor of four- and five-year-old children. I love working with children, especially this age group. The little ones are easy to see Christ in most of the time. Their gentleness, kindness, eagerness to love, curiosity… helps me to contemplate how Jesus must have been as a child.
Having twenty-four kindergarteners in your care requires help, so I have three Junior Counselors (JCs) and one Counselor in Training (CIT). To be honest I have never been great at delegating, communicating, or being the one in charge. I tend to like being in the backstage crew, hiding in the shadows secretly finding things that need doing and getting them done so that the program runs more smoothly.
As Senior Counselor I need to be up front, center stage, the face the parents recognize as caring for their children. I have to entrust the background work to my JCs and CIT. I have to be careful about what message I am communicating to them. Am I explaining clearly? How is my tone? I also have to deal with the overall discomfort of others having a difference of opinion from mine.
Well, needless to say, this first week did not go as smoothly as I would have hoped. My initial reaction was to get rid of two of the JCs. They were not following my instructions. Instead, they were doing their own thing and even being outright defiant. Fortunately, a good friend reminded me that they were children also, college students, but nonetheless children just the same. They had some experience working with this age group and at this camp even, but they had not been alive for as many years as I have been working in this field. They did not have the struggles and experiences that over 28 years of working with young children gives you. So how could I justify treating them as if they should know something that there is no way they could know?
Looking for Christ in them and hoping to be Christ to them, I asked them what strengths and struggles they felt they brought to the program. It was honestly surprising to see that they listed so few of the strengths I saw in them and quite a few struggles of which I was completely unaware. It made me realize that I too at their age had responsibility for the care and safety of children when I was a foster parent to my sister and three other children aged 2, 4, and 15. Looking back to when I was their age, I had made many mistakes and learned the hard way as well.
I have always had big moments of responsibility, so it is ingrained in me that I notice the safety issues. I stressed to the JCs that safety had to be our #1 priority. Just like them, I wanted nothing more than to help these children in our care to have fun and enjoy their time at camp, but we needed to keep safety in the forefront in order for that to happen. I shared with them that I know they might feel some of the double checking is tedious, but that I have experienced things like saving a choking child, a friend losing her first grader due to drowning and going to funerals where I witnessed parents burying a child – all incidents which I hope they never ever had to experience.
What followed surprised me. We had a friendly conversation about the struggles they were facing with their duties, where there were places I was missing the need for more support, and that better communication and distribution of jobs was necessary. It would have been much easier for me to see them as wrong or even the enemy, but God calls us to see them as our neighbors, and further, to see Him in them.
Loving, patient Father, thank you for the gifts and talents you have given me. Thank you for the opportunity to share those gifts and talents in your service of caring for these little ones of yours. Help me to always see You, in not only the children in my care, but in all my coworkers and even the strangers on the street and help me to be Your face to them. Amen.
Christine Dufresne has been a Promised Pauline Cooperator for 5 years. Originally from New Bedford, MA, she served at a mission in Kentucky for 16 months before moving back to MA where she currently lives in Norwood. In addition to being a foster parent, she has been working with children in various ways for the past 25 years, helping with the children’s program on retreats and with the Holy Family Institute group in Boston, and is currently a nanny for several families. She serves as a Eucharistic minister in her home parish of St. Catherine’s in Norwood. Most recently she has completed her studies and is awaiting graduation with her Bachelor’s in Psychology/Human Services. She has embarked on latest part of her journey to adoption from foster care of a sweet seven year old little girl. God is Good!!!