In her book, Nightingale, Kristin Hannah portrayed two sisters, Vianne Mauriac and Isabelle Rossignol, who were living in German-occupied France. Personally, I came to like the author’s writing style as she is able to bring the readers (or listeners, in my case, since I was listening to her novel as an audiobook) into the different scenes. Through her imaginative and expressive words, she is able to allow her audience to be present and be part of the story with the characters. I really enjoyed reading her works! Nevertheless, there is one scene in this particular novel that really stood out for me. I would like to share it with you because it touches on the theme of courage and trying to be strong in the midst of many challenges, trials, and crises. Through this brief exchange, I believe the author was able to highlight both the natural fears and reservations of a pressured and helpless woman while using the compassionate and stern words of Mother Superior who tried to affirm and ask Vianne to be strong in who she is! While lovingly trying to comfort Vianne, this elderly nun also asked her to stand by her values and firm in her character in order to choose what is right and just, hence willing to make the necessary sacrifices to be her true self. Hence, there is a great lesson for all of us here, and that is why I would like to share this small moment with you.
Vianne went to the local convent after she found out from her sister, Isabelle, that the list she was pressured to compose by the Nazi Captain, Wolfgang Beck, who billeted and lived at her home. He manipulated her to identify certain “people of interest,” which included her best friend, Rachel de Champlain, who was captured and taken away because she was a Jew. After Mother Superior found Vianne in distraught, and with a few pleasant exchanges and recollections of the past, she began to open her heart:
V: “You know there is a German billeted at my house. He asked me which teachers at school were Jewish, Communist, or Freemason.”
MS: “Ah, and you answered him.”
V: “That makes me a fool — that’s what Isabelle called me — isn’t it?!?”
MS: “You are no fool, Vianne. And your sister is quick to judge… that much I remembered about her…perhaps they needed your help, perhaps they did not. Certainly, they would have found the names without your help. But that is not what matters!”
V: “What do you mean?”
MS: “I think as this war goes on, we will have to look more deeply. These questions are not about them, but about us.”
V: “I don’t know what to do anymore! Antoine [her husband] always took care of everything! They are more than what I can handle.”
MS: “Don’t think about who they [the Nazis] are. Think about who you are and what sacrifices you can live with and what will break you.”
V: “It’s all breaking me! I need to be more like Isabelle. She’s so certain of everything. This war is black and white for her, nothing seems to scare her.”
MS: “Isabelle will have her crisis of faith in this, too. As will we all! I had been here before in the Great War, I know the hardships are just beginning. You must stay strong.”
V: “By believing in God?!?”
MS: “Yes, of course, but not only by believing in God. Prayers and faith will not be enough, I am afraid. The path of righteousness is often dangerous. Get ready, Vianne! This is only your first test. Learn from it!”
The conversation carried on a little bit more with Mother Superior telling Vianne: “You are not alone and you are not the one in charge. Ask for help when you need it and give when you can. I think that is how we serve God, each other, and ourselves in times as dark as these.” Hence, the scene ended with Vianne recalling the importance of her faith in dark times of the past, especially at the passing of her mother, even though she felt alone, filled with shame, and overwhelmed at the moment.
To be honest, I can relate to this conversation between Vianne and Mother Superior in many ways! I have seen similar pressures imposed by the Communist regime in my own motherland, Viet Nam, growing up. Even though the adults had things harder than us, we were taught in school to be patriotic by reporting any suspicious people or activities that could endanger society and the common good. Being young and naive, I was tempted to do so, too, but my family stood firm in making sure that we chose and made our decisions with integrity instead of government pressures and threats. I had seen people being abused, physically pulled out of their homes and into the local government centers to be interrogated, threatened and fears imposed upon them and their family members. It was not an easy life living under a dictatorial and controlling regime that wants to silence everyone who might endanger their power.
All people have their own particular breaking points! Even though they might be strong, they all tend to come to break when their family or loved ones are being threatened or have to suffer with them. This, unfortunately, has become the go-to, popular, easy, and typical option for cruel, inhumane, sadistic, or controlling people and regimes. Sick, psychopathic, sociopathic, or narcissistic people do not care about others, and they are willing to manipulate, threaten, and hurt others to get what they want! If they cannot impose their will upon you and me through lies, deceptions, manipulations, and threats, they are willing to extend that control and hurt on those whom we love as well. It had happened in the past, I had seen it and experienced it by myself, and it will continue to happen since those people have no conscience, morality, or truly care for others.
Unfortunately, it also happens in the Church as well. There are manipulative leaders and false shepherds who are grooming and manipulating those who are around them in order to be in control. When the typical “sweet” lies and deceptive words do not work, they will use the humanistic and worldly “dirty” tactics of fear and threat. People who lack compassion and mercy will have no power in stopping until they get what they want! It is sad, but it is also true; therefore, it is very important for us to realize and recognize, as Mother Superior said, what is important to us.
To stand with the truth is to choose to suffer at times! The personal decision is a sacrificial one because we all have to choose what is important to us — our values and convictions, our moral foundations and spiritual anchors, our honest and sincere conscience before God — even when it hurts and we have to suffer for our choices. The truth is not popular, and integrity cannot be easily sold, bought, bribed, forced, or manipulated. There will be thousands of obstacles, people, and things that will pressure us to give in and sell ourselves short of integrity and truth, but it is up to us to try our best to be firmly grounded in Him, knowing who we are, honest with ourselves, and try our best to defend and protect what is important for us.
As we are about to enter the holiest time in the history of our salvation, we can see that, since Palm Sunday, the crowd that once welcomed Him is now slowly moving on, being indifferent, and turning against Him. Those who have no moral conviction and strength can easily give in to the popular, vocal, manipulative, and controlling voices that are able to persuade and influence the mass. Hence, to be defined by others is to have nothing at all; to live by popularity is to die by it, too. If you do not believe me, look at what the crowd did to our very own Savior and Redeemer! In such a short time, they went from welcoming Him to crucifying Him. Yet, since the beginning, Jesus knew who He was and did not have to prove Himself to anyone! He did not want to simply be a popular figure, a worldly revolutionary leader, an admired teacher, or someone who won the heart of the people, He wanted their genuine faith and conversion of heart according to the truth. He cared less for a dependent relationship based on what people thought or wanted Him to be for them because He cared about their true freedom, liberation, salvation, and redemption from the enslavement to sin.
We might fail, and we will all fall short somehow because each and every one of us has our own breaking points. However, it is important to know who we are and our values as to find the necessary strength in God to stand strong and receive the needed grace from Him to learn from our past mistakes, prepare to fight the battle well, and humbly willing to make the necessary sacrifices for our personal and moral convictions. We are not alone and we can only be true to ourselves and able to stand firm with what we truly believe, knowing that the Almighty is in charge. Even though the evil, vocal, popular, or manipulative ones seem to win and have control at the moment, God has the ultimate words. He will deliver, redeem, and vindicate us in His infinite wisdom and providential care. Even though the battle might be hard, it seems like life is too much to bear, and we do not think that we can go on, He will give us the necessary strength to bear what is in front of us. While we might not get what we want or think should happen right away or in a short time, His divine justice and truth will always prevail.
We have seen empires, rulers, civilizations, and evils came and went, rose and fell, swept in and out, but the Church survived all of them. She is able to stand strong, even in the harshest challenges of the past and current moments, because God is with us! Our Lord made the choice and chose to walk the road to Golgotha. He did not choose the easy, popular, and more appealing way, He chose the one that was needed, personal, intimate, and life-giving out of love for us. Therefore, as His disciples, we cannot remain as we are in the world and expect to be truly happy and fulfilled. This is not what our hearts were made to be nor where we meant to find our true joy! We cannot follow the world and its shallow standards and expect to be content because its ego-centeredness ways only tell us that we need more without telling us what we really need.
Only in the eternal, everlasting, unfailing, genuine love of God can we find our rest and true self-worth as we were created and meant to be! He desires to give His all to us, and only in giving Him our everything can we be at rest with ourselves and content with what is going on around us, seeing others as gifts and treasures in themselves instead as problems to avoid or things to be used. Therefore, no matter what is going on in your life and mine right now, do not be afraid of rising above the noisy world, its pressures, manipulations, deceptions, lies, and its crowd-minded indifference and pressure to truly become what God wants us to be! Our Savior and Redeemer taught us how to not be dictated by these false voices and powers. We have seen what the crowd can do from the very example of our Lord‘s life; hopefully, to not allow ourselves to be dictated, manipulated, or defined by it.
Jesus taught us how to rise above the empty noisiness and everchanging opinions and not be controlled by it by being faithful to our theocentric vocation, mission, and purpose. It will not be a popular decision nor a road much taken but we will be able to walk the same journey of true selfless, sacrificial, and life-giving love that He has taught and given to us with His very own life’s examples. We all have to make sacrifices, choosing what is important and real, doing what is right and just, and knowing that we are not alone for He loves us, will never abandon us, and no matter what, will always be with us. Therefore, let us not be dictated by others but choose to become Christlike in how we choose to embrace, live, and radiate God‘s love in our very own lives.