One of the little remarks that teachers used on a report card when I was in elementary school was “There’s room for improvement.” Almost every child had either the same remark, or something similar. I am sure that this was a widely-used phrase, and rightfully so. For, within this remark is an abiding hope that each teacher had for a little kid. There is always a room to grow.
I once served on the board of Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, South Carolina. One of the extra-curricular activities for the students was to visit another country during the Winterim break. Several years after I had resigned from the board, I received an email from one of my friends who organizes these trips, and invited me to join them on a trip to Ghana. I took them up on the offer and went with them to serve in a community that I had never visited before. These junior and senior students would wake up at 5:00 a.m., walk to a farm, cut grass and shrubs, make garden beds, and rake some of the weeds. We would then leave the farm around 7:00 a.m., when the African sun would begin to burn mercilessly.
We would then walk back to the residence where we were lodging, take a shower, and then have the kids go to a local primary school where they could teach. One child of the many seemed older than most. You could tell from his appearance that he was far older than all the kids in the school and, in fact, for his grade. In a conversation with the head teacher of the school, one of the chaperones from South Carolina asked, "How come this particular student looks a lot older than the rest?" The headteacher responded thus: "Don’t worry about this boy. He’s here because his mother wants him to be here. I don’t see anything good coming out of him." That was truly a shocker to me! His response was unlike any that I have ever heard from any teacher before. That is not to say there aren’t worse cases, but at least a teacher maintains some hope, however infinitesimal, that something good might come out of a student because there’s always room to grow; more than that, there exist infinite possibilities in each child.
A lot has happened over these past two years that I have been privileged to serve here at Christ Church. The energy, enthusiasm, and pride that often vibrates from our parishioners is often overwhelming. Last Saturday's Christ Church Auction is a classic example. Your kindness and generosity led us in raising over thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) to support our common life. That was incredible. I am incredibly thankful to every single member of our parish who contributed, in ways both great and small, in order to make this year’s auction a huge success. Last year we made a little over twenty-seven thousand dollars ($27,000.00), and this year’s margin reminds me that there’s always room to grow.
In my view, every opportunity for reflection is equally an opportunity for growth. And as I reflect on the many ways in which I am grateful for each one of you, and for the opportunity to serve you, I am also reminded of a unique privilege. It is one borne out of humility, and which is an essential part of every relationship. Part of my growth process, then, is to be able to apologize for actions and inactions on my part. The Prayer Book frames it this way: things done, and left undone. I believe, in my heart of hearts, that there’s no way that none of you has taken umbrage over an action or inaction on my part; that is why I can offer an apology. Part of our growth process is a reflection of the human condition - it is never static, there is always room to grow, and growing takes the form of looking back with gratitude over many blessings, and sorrow over many wrongs. More than anything else, it is the courage to admit our own fallibilities, and to inspire hope in others.
On Sunday, November 10th we will gather together at 9:30 a.m. to worship, give thanks, break bread, elect a new Vestry and reflect on our common life over the past year. Annual Meetings are special occasions to make ourselves accountable to one another. It is also a time to explore the many rooms we have yet to grow. Added to the specialness of Sunday is our In-Gathering of Pledges on this same day. Your pledges help support our common life, and provide us with the tools to transform lives in our community and beyond. Indeed, your generous contributions to Christ Church help us to provide more than enough means to encourage, to motivate, and to shepherd people in creating rooms for their individual spiritual growth.
In my sermon last Sunday, I made a point that “An authentic life isn’t a perfect life, but it is a life of blessedness and gratitude. One who lives an authentic life is the author of his or her own life. He or she writes their own script, and that script always leaves a room for growth.”
Indeed, one of the practices of Ignatian Spirituality is the Daily Examen: becoming aware of God’s presence, reviewing your day with gratitude, asking for guidance and looking ahead to the morrow. And guess what? We can only look ahead with hope because we know we have another chance at growth.
Remember, there’s always a room for growth, and to discover this truth is in itself liberating and life-giving. Like my teacher and many others used to write - and I believe still do - there’s always room for improvement.
Give yourself a room to grow.