By Sister Jacqueline Goodin
One day in mid-summer, I looked out my window and over to the athletic field of St. Joseph Academy, our sponsored high school in Cleveland, which sits next to the center where our sisters live and work. I saw a group of young women running hurdles.
I marveled at how easily and courageously they seemed to run and jump, with some speed, over the series of hurdles in training for an upcoming sports season.
I flashed back to my own high school days in P.E. The hurdles seemed at least five feet tall to me then. I spent my entire time in those classes always moving myself to the end of the line so that I would never have to attempt the high jump and face the ultimate humiliation of falling flat on my face.
In those years, I could never imagine all of the hurdles that I would face in the following decades. Nor could I have taken in the very real hurdles that people all over the world face in the daily challenge of existing amidst poverty, racism and oppression. At that time, avoidance was a very smart strategy. But not so much anymore.
The image of hurdles has made me reflect on the ways in which I engage (or not) with hurdles in my life. How do you get over them, especially when they seem too big? First, let’s drop consideration for the many small hurdles in life that we inevitably face, such as a too-long grocery store line when I’m in a hurry or a small favor that a friend asks that isn’t very convenient to me. In the cosmos of things, this is not really a hurdle. It is a minor irritation. We can call upon our gracious God to ask for a bit more patience in those instances.
I am referring to those hurdles which seem to plague us, injure our sense of well-being or safety, or which block us from believing deep down that we are loved by an Everlasting Love, whom we call God. These are real hurdles which one cannot avoid or run around. They must be faced, for on the other side is the abundance of life which we have been promised by our loving Creator. It’s worth the hard work of learning to jump those hurdles to have a taste of this abundance.
I believe the first step is to humbly ask our God for the gift of wisdom to discern what is a real hurdle and which hurdles are superficial. Then to ask for whatever other gifts we might need to break the hurdle down—such as the gift of self-compassion, courage, honesty, willingness to ask for help from friends or professionals. These are the gifts God never fails to give if we first take the often-time difficult step to simply ask and keep asking.
Perhaps more importantly is “how do I accompany others who are facing their big life hurdles.” This is the call to turn compassion and justice-making into verbs—not nouns. We are called to be the bearers of hope that this abundance of life is possible and within reach if only we lay down our unnecessary burdens. Emptying ourselves of what is unnecessary only opens up space in our hearts for more love and life, for ourselves and for the world. We who are experiencing this abundance of life cannot remain satisfied and self-protective; we must reach out to those who are suffering in any way—through our prayer, advocacy, service, and hospitality.
So, let’s get going and jump over a few hurdles today! No hurdle is too small or too big that it cannot be conquered.
About the Author
Sister Jacqueline Goodin, CSJ, is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team. She is a Clinical Social Worker with broad experience working with adults and children in varied settings. A transformative experience for her was the five years she served in Tanzania at St. Joseph Hostel for Girls, in collaboration with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery.