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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Winfrey

Don't Run After Them

As they welcomed me to contemplate with them for long hours, I soon realized I had assumed wrong that I had to go to a special place to get close to God. My heart lurched as God seemed to speak to me directly...

Photo by David Marcu

I heard a voice alerting me seconds before I tumbled over onto a New Jersey sidewalk and broke my hand. A few days later I walked away from a dream I’d had since my teenage years. I felt warned of more than my impending fall.

It said, “Don’t run after them.”

I’d been hurrying to catch up with two Missionary of Charity sisters on their way to a daily home visit to people in need. I was living with them in their convent in Plainfield.

Long before I sensed a divine nudging begin in me when I was 16. In the years following I kept wondering what it meant as I raised two sons alone and taught kids to read and learn English. My life was happy and full with close relationships and meaningful work supported by daily contemplative practice. I became close to the Atlanta Missionaries of Charity by volunteering at their Gift of Grace House, a hospice for poor women with AIDS. I wondered if the next step would be to leave my life behind to embrace Mother Teresa’s contemplatives’ grueling schedule. Would it bring me closer to God? Their expertise is on the same level as the Dalai Lama’s monks.

Joining them meant that I would be dropping my active lifestyle and stopping close contact with my sons, family, and friends to a few letters and one 15-minute visit a year. Identifying with the poorest of the poor, MCs receive a bucket and two slivers of soap to wash themselves and one change of clothing.

So I took the plunge in 1996 and went to stay with the Missionaries of Charity Contemplative Branch in Plainfield, New Jersey. I was surprised that rising at 4:40 am to begin contemplating with them for six hours throughout the day was not as difficult as I imagined. During the other hours, together we chopped vegetables for our midday soup, attended mass, and minded the garden in silence. We reached out in love on our daily visits to shut-ins.

As they welcomed me to contemplate with them for long hours, I soon realized I had assumed wrong that I had to go to a special place to get close to God. My heart lurched as God seemed to speak to me directly:

Don’t run off elsewhere looking for my love. I am not there. I have always been with you, loving you every moment all your life, as you guided your sons and taught little children. This ordinary life is where you are called to be. I am with you there.”

At first I didn’t want to acknowledge the message because it interfered with my plan. But I was counting on the wrong plan. A few days later the warning before my fall forced me to stop ignoring the truth and realize God has always been with me as I mothered my sons.

Looking back, I recognize my skewed thinking: I was hoping to earn respect from doing their arduous work as my personal salvation project. Knowing I am loved for my true self as I am, I don’t need to prove anything or run anywhere because I find my love and purpose are right where I am.

Thomas Merton echoes how this works:

“The secret of my full identity is hidden in [God]…who alone can make me who I am…the way of doing it is a secret I can learn from no one else…contemplation…enables me to see and understand the work that …wants done.” [1]

I’m so glad I listened to the messages and came back home. My focus has changed to discover treasure has always been here in my ordinary life. Deep moments of contemplative prayer reveal each day’s gifts, adventures, and guidance. Love blooms in the silence and meaning overflows. No need to run anywhere.


[1] Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, New York: New Directions Books, 1961, 33

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1 Comment

M Tanzy
M Tanzy
Jul 11, 2022

This story rings true with my experience leading the "hidden" life of keeping a home and raising children. Now and then I would pray "Here I am. Send me." And the answer would be "You are where you are needed already. What can you do here today?"

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