When someone calls me a saint for adopting a child with (mild) special needs from across the world, I always deflect. I say that we have a child who has attached to us so well, has minimal medical needs, and just needed a family. The parents who have to fight for redemption for their adoptive children…now those are the saints. The ones whose children were so malnourished, they were the size of infants in their teen years. The kids with completely limited mobility, the ones who come home with RAD, who are emotionally wounded from years of neglect…those are the families who deserve your admiration.
They are my heroes. They are the saints.
And I remember why I don’t want you to think I am a saint. My deepest fear is that you might use the same definition I had: A beacon of faith, clean living, a person going against all odds to keep God out front, never laughing at a well-placed swear word, disciplined in prayer and fasting, saving fun for the afterlife, forsaking human comforts, and most frighteningly, ready to die a death that will be counted as senseless by non-believers. A saint is a person set apart.
I want to be like a saint, but I don’t want to be a saint.
But tonight I read the words of a man who walks closely with Jesus every day, as his career, and his calling:
“Saints are people who belong fully to God. They are not afraid of being mocked, misunderstood or marginalized.”
ー Pope Francis
And I was in tears. In an instant. Because, scarier than someone calling you a saint, is the realization that maybe you’ve had it all wrong. What if saints aren’t rare at all? What if they are just the normal people who strive to be brave enough to follow what God asks of them?
What Pope Francis points out here is something Jesus tried to prepare us for, the element of truth in my stereotyping. Being a saint requires persecution. It means I must be different, puts me at risk of being condemned, and makes me face my greatest fear of being misunderstood. And in those terms, I know a lot of saints. I know many more since joining the international special needs adoption community.
But, the real reason people want to call me a saint is simple. If I am a saint, then God is not calling you to this. To my specific mission. The pursuit of the passion inside your heart. The “if there were no such thing as __(insert worldly limitations here)_____, I would give it all up to __(do reckless thing for God)______,” ideas. (And no, I do not mean windsurfing in Bora Bora, or breaking a covenant with your spouse to fulfill this.) I am talking about the capital “S” Saints you admire. The Mother Theresas, the Christian martyrs, that doctor on the Dateline special, the woman on the Pass it On billboard. I said to myself for so long: I am not a saint, with mystic qualities of perfect faith supernaturally existing inside my heart. You are ok to keep being “you,” and admiring those who do more, from the comfy seat in church and an occasional second collection $20 bill.
Because, what would you have to give up in order to become that person you admire? The one living for Christ? What would He want from you? Would He ask for your good name? Your family? Your friends, your church, your job, your money, your safety? Your life?
What are we living for, except to surrender all of those things to the one who brought this amazing little person into my life when I did?
My husband and I did surrender all of those things when we said yes. And God took only what He needed.
But He didn’t take it away. He made it grow.
We have had friends who are not called to the same ending. It isn’t Russian Roulette. It’s offering everything you are. And He uses different things from everybody. You aren’t “lucky” if it ends up happy 4 weeks after you get home. Nobody ends up “done” after offering themselves in that one crazy thing you just cannot do. It’s simply: what challenging way can God use you next?
So the next time someone calls me a saint, I am not going to deflect. I am going to respond with “Yes, we did have the chance to be mocked, misunderstood, and marginalized for a little while there. Those things didn’t happen because of who we are, but because of who He is. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but it was a real gift. We got to choose to become saints. It gives us a connection to those who experience those things simply because they were born.”
Please take away the parts of me, Lord, that say choosing to live as a saint is unattainable, and superhuman. It’s as easy as living each day in Your promise and love…and doing it even when we aren’t saints. And then, well, I guess we are.
This song used to scare me, but now, I think I understand. What good is salt if it isn’t salty? And we all know I can be salty…