“I am a mess and I need help.” These words are some of the hardest for me to say out loud in community.
I came to L’Arche Greater Washington, D.C. on a warm Sunday summer afternoon in 2011. I thought I was coming to help others, and felt qualified to be a helper since I had spent a summer at L’Arche Daybreak in Canada and also trained for ministry at a Methodist seminary. I was good at helping and being busy. But I had little experience in really asking for help and receiving it with humility.
When I pulled up to Euclid house in my beat-up car, I felt I had been equipped and empowered to share my expertise in ministry with the community. (It had yet to become my community.) I did not know it then, but God had brought me to Euclid house, to L’Arche, to have a safe place to fall apart.
I had no clue that I would experience a God that did not live in abstractions of my mind, but one who was extremely close and sometimes uncomfortably present in the here and now. So instead of sharing in vague ways, I will share a story, my life story, so you get a sense of who I was before coming here.
I grew up in the mountains of rural South Korea till the age of nine, and then came to the Appalachian mountains of Western North Carolina. I was thirty-one years old when I came to L’Arche GWDC, but still carried with me my childhood conceptions and experiences of God as a rule maker, a disciplinarian, and one that kept a tally of all my wrongs. I was told at church that smoking, drinking, dancing, and basically anything fun was a sin; I also saw many people at church treat each other in mean ways that contradicted what they said they believed, so I basically thought my faith community was full of a bunch of hypocrites. I kept searching for a loving community, but no place really measured up. I realize now that I kept pointing fingers at others, because I was afraid to look inside of myself.
I have very loving parents, but at some point I listened to the critical voices of my childhood, which said deep inside, “I am not enough.” That voice grew louder and louder until it became unbearable. Most of my life, I consciously and unconsciously tried to earn affirmations and approvals of my peers, church, institutions, parents, authority figures, and the ultimate authority figure: God. I didn’t know all this when I came to Euclid House. I had come to be of help, and not to be helped, because I already had all the answers.
Sometimes, the people who think they have all the answers need the most help. I needed a lot of help learning to accept myself as who I am, but in order to do that I had to discard a lot of old things that I no longer needed. I came to L’Arche thirsty for belonging and acceptance, but on the inside I was still not really at peace with myself. At my deep core, I thought I was bad, so I hated myself, and worse yet, I believed in and experienced a God that hated me. I felt that I was never good enough, and I spent a lot of life moving from place to place, going from thing to thing in order earn other people’s affirmations. I kept running away until I came to D.C .
It was on that Sunday afternoon on Euclid Street that Andrew Commisso shook my hand for the first time and greeted me. On that day, I did not know that Andrew’s friendship would help me grow. I was not comfortable with Andrew at first, because I did not “understand” him. Later I realized being with someone with an open heart is sometimes the best way to be understood and there are moments of encounter that changes our lives that often occur in mundane moments that seem like nothing special until after the fact.
I really struggled to reconcile my own sense of vocation, sense of identity, and expectations of community with the reality of where I found myself for the first few months in community. I came to L’Arche GWDC newly Catholic, and having given up my vocation of becoming a Methodist minister. I was also bringing with me years of baggage of wanting a place and community to belong to, but at the same time really scared to commit to a place. I did a lot of comparing my previous experience in the L’Arche Daybreak community in Canada with my current experience. It was not until the later half of my first year at L’Arche GWDC that I really claimed it as my community.
Friendship is sometimes beyond cognitive understanding. Andrew’s friendship helped me see and experience a different kind of God, and in doing so I started changing and my perspective changed. On days in community where I felt hopeless and low, I walked into Euclid house to be greeted with a smile and hug by Andrew. I did not have to earn Andrew’s friendship, but in his eyes I was enough simply because I was there, present with him. My reality was the same, but I saw my situation, my home, and my community differently.
Andrew also introduced me to Big Bird through books and DVDs.
As a spiritual exercise suggested by a friend, I started writing down the qualities I wanted God to have, and I started writing about God that is safe, funny, warm, a friend, full of joy, open, and a God that laughs.
As I was writing my list, I realized I was describing Big Bird. I wanted a connection with a God like Big Bird, not the God of my childhood, the Big Bearded White Man in the Sky, who wanted to whoop me.
Big Bird reminds me of a God who is my friend that I feel safe with. This process helped me experience a loving God that I did not fear.
The help I needed when I came to community was to let go of old perceptions about myself, and old perceptions of a God of my childhood. I had to discard old ways of being like running away when things got hard. Relationships in community are not always glamorous, and sometimes they are filled with conflicts. I’ve had conflicts about the dishes and had a friend yell at me because he felt I was too controlling. However, all the hard stuff of relationship was worth it, because I experienced a home that I could be real, and even share dark parts of myself that I had yet to accept. I’ve slowly learned to accept the deep sadness and anger I’ve held within me, with a lot of help from a loving God that loves me for me, and a community that holds me gently.
It’s been almost two and half years since I arrived on a Sunday afternoon on Euclid Steet. I am grateful for being part of a community that helped me grow and love a little more like Big Bird.
I heard a prayer once that said, “Holy Spirit teach me to pray, and pray in me.” I imagine Big Bird is making a little nest in my heart. I am still seeking and yearning, but not as frantically as I used to. I am more comfortable with silence and rediscovered the Religious Society of Friends, with whom I sit in silence to be with a God like Big Bird. I am grateful for being able to build a nest/home of my own with my wife and create new friendships both inside and outside of L’Arche GWDC, because I opened by heart to allow God to make a nest/home in me.
-EunSung Kim came to L’Arche GWDC on June 5, 2011. His childhood was spent in the mountains of South Korea, and then in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina. EunSung’s father is a Methodist minister and his mother is a teacher. He has an older brother, David. His loving wife, Jocelyn, puts up with his cheesiness and grumpiness. EunSung is over-educated, but he turned out OK by unlearning a lot of it. In his spare time, EunSung loves cooking for family and friends and painting.