U Zaw (pronounced oo zo) teaches and mentors poor, teenage boys who work for Helping Hands, a small social service program in Yangon, Myanmar. Annie Bell, the wife of an British diplomat, started this skills-development outreach several years ago. A deeply compassionate woman, Annie has generously opened her heart and home to these boys and to many other individuals in response to the overwhelming poverty and needs that surround her.
As Annie’s right hand man, U Zaw is responsible to teach 20 boys and young men how to refurbish furniture for resale. He’s there to help them develop marketable skills; and, just as important, he quickly adds, character. Most of those who work at Helping Hands are fatherless, with huge voids in their lives. U Zaw is genuinely concerned for each boy, and takes his mentoring role very seriously.
As a Christian, U Zaw’s faith is very important to him and is a source of inspiration for his work. I was surprised by his low impression of his own spiritual life.
Love for these kids oozed from his pores, and his dedication was manifestly obvious; but it was his wife that he praised. She is the one who truly loves Jesus, he told me somewhat sheepishly. She is the one who is committed to the church, he explained, obviously self-conscious about his own minimal participation. U Zaw works six days a week and rarely has time to even attend a weekly worship service, let alone any other church activity. He clearly feels bad about his lack of church involvement.
We only had a few minutes, but there was no way I was going to walk away without commenting. The measure of our spiritual vitality goes well beyond what we believe or how much time we spend in Bible Study or church. Spirituality is also—maybe chiefly—about how we live out our faith between Sundays. I had to tell him what I saw in his love and dedication for those kids, that his heart and actions shouted a living spirituality and were beautiful expressions of what it means to follow Christ in ordinary life.
Sandra Schneiders, professor emerita in the Jesuit School of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely, California and pioneer in the academic study of spirituality, captures well the interplay of belief, relationship to God, and relationship to the rest of humanity. Schneiders defines spirituality as one’s “lived experience” of faith. Spirituality, then, is not just belief, on one extreme, or a collection of religious experiences, on the other; and it certainly isn’t the accumulation of religious activities. Rather, our spiritual life is grounded in God’s activity on our behalf, is enlivened by our response of faith, and is marked by our experience of seeking to live out the faith in myriad ways, affecting every dimension of our life.
Please don’t misunderstand me. We need to worship, and we need spiritual disciplines to strengthen and encourage us as we seek to follow Christ. Personally, I depend on guidance and inspiration from reading my Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians, singing, worshipping God, and praying.
Yet, between Sundays, the real measure of our spirituality is in how we live out our faith in the context of our daily life. It’s in how we fulfill our duties and responsibilities, and in how we treat one another. We must resist the temptation to measure our spiritual maturity by how much we’ve learned intellectually, how many spiritual practices we observe, or even how many spiritual “highs” we may have experienced. Instead, what matters most is how much we let the love of God move us and flow out of us toward others.
As I turned to go, U Zaw began shaking my hand vigorously, a huge smile spreading across his face. It was apparent that no one had ever explained to him what spiritual vitality looked like in the life of a humble, sincere follower of Christ. “You must come back and talk to me again!” he insisted. “I want you to meet my wife, too!” I would be happy to do so, I thought. You’re just the kind of person I want to be around.
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
 Sandra Schneiders, “The Discipline of Christian Spirituality and Catholic Theology,” in Exploring Christian Spirituality: Essays in Honor of Sandra M. Schneiders, IHM,” ed. By Bruce H. Lescher and Elizabeth Liebert (New York: Paulist Press, 2006), p 200.
 Adapted from my book, One Step at a Time: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Spirit-Led Living (Herndon, Virginia: The Alban Institute, 2008), p. 6.
3 responses to “Between Sundays—Spirit-Led Living in Ordinary Life”
Praise God for U Zaw and his active love of Christ demonstrated in the vital work he is doing with the boys and young men in Helping Hands. Praise God for using Annie to begin this program. Without Christ’s love being in our everyday actions, we are nothing. Thank you Tim for sharing about U Zaw. I hope you get to meet his wife the next time you are in Myanmar. Blessings on you and FHL.
Thanks for this essay, Tim.I enjoyed reading the story about U Zaw and found Sandra Schneiders’ comments very pertinent. Faith is lived out in service. Belief or scrpiture study on its own is not enough. You have to live the faith in one’s day to day life by reaching out to others in whatever way is availalbe to you and using the gifts, talents, skills and experience that God has given you.
Tim, What a beautiful story of a man living his faith and thank YOU for reminding each of us through your story to give the gift of loving words and encouragement when it is within our ability to do so…Blessings to you and Jill in your ministry!