Lessons in Vulnerability: An Interview with Agnes Chawadi

Agnes Chawadi (center, red shirt) spends time with the L'Arche St. Louis community.

Agnes Chawadi (center, red shirt) spends time with the L’Arche St. Louis community.

Agnes Chawadi was a founding live-in assistant for two years at L’Arche St. Louis. Prior to her work with L’Arche St. Louis, she was involved with L’Arche London and L’Arche India.  She currently provides home care to seniors.

How did you find out about L’Arche?

I was introduced to L’Arche by Fr. Pierre Jacob, SJ, in 2003. He was then my spiritual director and the chaplain of L’Arche Kolkata in India. At the time I was feeling an intense need to explore my deeper self. Fr. Jacob thought L’Arche was one of the concrete ways that would help me find my way through inner self.

You became a part of L’Arche in India, then spent time in L’Arche London and L’Arche St. Louis. What were some of the similarities and differences you experienced?

Agness Chawadi 1From my association with L’Arche in three continents, I can say that the spirit and lifestyle is pretty common in all L’Arche homes across the continents. One can easily feel welcomed, accepted, and fit into the regular schedule.

In India, inter-faith worship was a special feature of the community. The daily life was more casual due to less involvement of the state. London and USA had tighter schedules and fixed outcomes.

In L’Arche, we talk a lot about vulnerability and weakness. What did you discover about your own vulnerabilities through your experience in community?

The biggest contribution of L’Arche in my life is to accept my brokenness, limitations and use them as my strengths. My upbringing had created a self-protective armor around and within me. I felt safe in the confines of this armor where I had total control over my life situations. Or at least I thought I had total control over my life.

One of my limitations was to please people. I would go to great length to make it possible. One of the ways I did that was by cooking good meals. On the positive note, I took into account everyone’s taste and diet needs.

However, the hidden agenda was that I wanted affirmation after the meal. I had a need for recognition and its absence would leave me feeling hurt or angry. I talked about it with the community and arrived at acknowledging my needs openly rather than subtly hiding them under acts of service.

Being open to my vulnerability allowed me to connect with people on a new level and embrace life lessons I definitely would not have learned otherwise. Once I owned up my hidden agenda, I started cooking the meal for the sake of the meal. I enjoyed the process of cooking and it did not matter if someone said a good word or not. I definitely acquired this from watching the core members, who were quite cool and comfortable with their vulnerabilities and did not hesitate asking directly for love and help.

L’Arche helped me to initiate an inner revolution that has now taken its own life. No more hiding or control.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ―Brené Brown

What was one thing you learned in L’Arche that has significantly changed you?

One of the core members I lived with would often talk to himself out loud. He would become self-conscious and stop the conversation when someone reminded him about it.

Once I deliberately paid attention to his self-talk. He was resolving a work-related problem by talking with his imaginary friend. I was taken aback by the solutions he was arriving at and the explanation he was giving for his behavior. Since then I never stopped him from engaging in self-talkand developed the habit myself.

The dialogue between me and myself since then has helped me in many ways. I am able to debate both sides of a difficult situation, blow off steam, understand my thoughts, rehearse a difficult conversation and shake off stress and anxiety. I understand that in talking to myself, I pay attention to someone who often gets short shrift in life: me. A good dialogue between me and myself helps me make a real headway in clarifying my thoughts and lifting my mood.

“When you talk out loud to yourself, you cause yourself to focus intently on the challenge, situation, or circumstance. This activity increases the likelihood of obtaining a desirable solution more quickly. It is easy to daydream nonproductively for an hour or two, but it only wastes time and doesn’t give you the results you’d like to have. It is incredibly powerful hearing your own voice emotionally proclaiming what you intend and expect to accomplish. Talking out loud to yourself can go a long way in helping you move on.” —Bill Wayne

Agnes Chawadi 2012 L'Arche Ice Cream Social 003
L’Arche St. Louis is slated to open a new home in 2016. Find out more here.

Find out how you can join L’Arche in the United States or abroad.