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A Review of:
Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present
Robert J. Wicks
Paperback: Sorin Books, 2015.
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Reviewed by Sara Jo Emmerich
Many religious helping professionals and engaged lay leaders may groan a little when they hear the title of Robert J. Wicks’ revised 30 year old classic: Availability. Wicks is well acquainted with that inward groan that lies at the cusp of compassion fatigue. He notes in his preface that “availability is at a premium because it is not only a gift but also sometimes a great challenge for many of us—one that we need to more fully understand and address if we are to be able to continue to be present in the full sense of the word. Availability is not only a gift; it is also a problem” (ix).
He begins with the core of availability: being first available to one’s own self-awareness, anxieties, inner voice, and identity in Christ. Part of this self-awareness is recognizing the anxieties and separation between the image of ourselves that we project into the world, and the whole person who God is calling us to be. Wicks writes, “the relief in putting up our defenses and avoiding the truth is only a temporary one. The trade-off for ignorance is too great, for in not fighting the good fight, we die a bit each day torn by our anxieties and compulsions, which keep us troubled, bored, and unsatisfied” (8). As we grow in self-awareness, self-compassion, and clarity, we become not only more available to our identity in Christ, but also how Jesus is present in others when we meet with them. Our ability to grow in wholeness allows others to find space and grace to touch their own identity in Christ. And in that connection, the practice of availability can open us up to moments of deep joy.
Wicks guides readers through the use of quotes, stories, and his personal experience as a psycho-therapist, to explore how to be more available to Self, to others, and to God. With each section, readers are led into deeper levels of trust in the presence and availability of God. In his section on “Idols, Anxieties, and Letting Go in the Dark,” he describes an obstacle course exercise that even the most fit and able struggle with—swinging on a rope over a creek and then letting go on the other side before the feet can hit the ground. Participant after participant would struggle to let go before feeling their feet on the ground, just as many struggle to grow past unhealthy ways of relating to others even when they know better methods. He writes, “When we reach the special spiritual stop in life where we are secure enough to give up competition and extreme consumption so that we can evolve as Jesus would have us, we are being asked to play by new rules, and this can cause a great deal of pressure and anxiety” (99-100). In the same way, Wicks is guiding readers to let go of the ropes of their own anxieties so that they are freer to meet with God, others, and themselves with clarity and presence.
As each section ends with discussion questions and a scripture passage, this accessible book is well formatted for small groups, retreats, and self-reflection. The format encourages us as readers to practice availability through inner growth, fellowship with others, and finding moments of clarity that help in growing in God’s grace.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith
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