Letting Go and Opening Up

Friday, October 15, 2021

BSVM asks our outgoing Ministry Volunteers to reflect on an aspect of their journey of learning and growth, and to share it in our Closing Service. Below, read the Closing Reflection from Sara Snowden (BSVM ’20-’21) as she recalls lessons learned at her service site in Baltimore, MD.

Letting Go & Opening Up
By Sara Snowden, BSVM 2020-2021
A graduate Santa Clara University

Sara with students at Sisters Academy

Service with others this year has allowed me to transform my vision of service to better recognize the graces God presents in everyday moments. Each day at Sisters Academy of Baltimore has challenged me to see successes and failures not through my own eyes but through God’s eyes of compassion, liberation and healing. Entering the building each morning, I could go in with a plan of what I thought the day might hold or the challenges I might face, but I almost always left at the end of the day with insights that touched me from the most unexpected places. My job in service, therefore, became trying to see what God was trying to teach me each day, as opposed to what I thought I could teach the girls or even myself. This work has allowed me to allow God to shape me through service and better recognize and respond to the needs of those I am interacting with.

Being someone organized, quick to make a plan, and judge myself on self-described success or failure, service with others at Sisters Academy allowed me to see work as a place of widening perspectives. I learned to appreciate and see that the way I judge myself is not the full picture of all the pieces at work unseen to me, nor is it the full picture of the spirit moving in service and of the view God takes on our life journeys, which encompasses much more than we can see.

One night, I was reflecting on the math lesson I had taught about inequalities and the need when dividing or multiplying by a negative to flip the inequality sign. Honestly, I thought it had been a mundane and boring lesson that hadn’t really hit the mark, but then I received an email from a student that made me reconsider. Audrey, a 7th grader I worked with in mentorship and was beginning to get to know in person after many months on zoom, shared with me and the math teacher how her evening was going: “Hi Mrs. Campbell and Ms. Snowden. So, I was doing number 4 and I was totally confused and ready to give up…but I remembered when we were in class that when you have a negative number that is negative and (RIGHT) next to the variable it is also negative too, so I have to switch the greater than and less than sign and I was totally proud of myself and just wanted to let you know! 😂” [laughing crying face emoji]

This note caught me by surprise, not just because I was in full critique mode of my own teaching skill, but because Audrey was proud of herself and overcame her first instinct of giving up when she got the problem wrong. Math is not Audrey’s favorite subject and she was often a student that was quick to disengage when she didn’t understand or got tired. It had only been through getting to know her more personally that I began to see that her disengagement wasn’t due to not caring but rather a deep need for someone to notice her struggle and invite her into learning instead of leaving her behind.

In reading her email, I realized that I didn’t feel a great sense of accomplishment that I had done a “good job” as a teacher, nor did I feel overly optimistic that Audrey would love math from now on and never struggle again. Instead, I appreciated the grace that this moment was, knowing I had no control over it, nor could I manufacture it again. This was a new feeling: this unexpected connection and the acceptance I felt at letting it come and pass as it should without putting too much weight on it. Her joyful expression helped me feel a deeper sense of connection with her and a sense of fulfilment and gratitude from my service. I had been able to see in this interaction beyond my narrow mindset of self judgement to the bigger web being weaved from my service with others that I had no control over.

While Audrey and I never discussed this email in person, I continued to think about how I could bring the feeling I felt after reading it to my service and life in more ways. How can I recognize the value in positive interactions while not depending solely on these moments to make my service meaningful? Each moment I spent with students sharing in laughter and learning I was beginning to see as the ultimate goal of service, not the perfect test scores or precise lesson plans. I have been able to see service as not being black and white, or good or bad, but a mixture–grey hues of good and bad days, and I have learned to recognize the graces present in all of it. These opportunities to see my days at service with a wider perspective is something that I will continue to bring to other aspects of my life, such as spirituality and relationship building. Learning to let go of the expectations and rigid judgements of myself and be open to see the world in closer alignment to how God sees it has been a unique and transformative experience for me this year.

Sara with students from Sisters Academy