Just six months ago, I had the privilege of being a first-time published illustrator. At the beginning of 2022, my best friend decided to publish a poetry book appealing toward Catholic college women, and she asked me to illustrate it. Excitedly, yet somewhat nervously, I said yes. The process was incredibly life-giving, yet I still found myself listening to the lies that were being spoken into my heart. There were little digs here that began to hit tender places there. All kinds of comparison working together to subtly mix up what was supposed to be great joy with sorrow and resentment.
“If you like to write, too, then why don’t you have a book?”
“You’re only the illustrator — always seen, never heard.”
“All you’ll ever be is ‘the quiet one.’ Your voice simply doesn’t matter.”
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Most of my life, people have labeled me as such. Perhaps nonchalantly and never intentionally trying to hurt me, these words still found a way to make me question my worth. I do tend to sit back and listen and am a little more reserved at times. Typically, I would rather just observe and absorb other people’s conversations than contribute verbally. Without realizing it, I began to internalize that I didn’t really matter. I am just the quiet one. And what an awful thing to be.
Diving into prayer
One afternoon, right before the book was set to be launched, I decided to take my twisted emotions into the chapel, and unexpectedly was invited to enter into imaginative prayer with St. Joseph. In the home of the Holy Family, he was quietly looking at me from across the room. In all of my frustration, sorrow and shame, I felt the foster father of Jesus gaze upon me with the kindest eyes filled with empathy and love.
In the gentlest voice with a soft smile, he said, “Everyone sees me as the quiet one, too.” Immediately taken aback by his words to me, I noticed that his response didn’t have any quality of bitterness or pity. His tone was not sad. He was not complaining about the label that had been given to him. He simply wanted to let me know that he saw me. He understood me because he is well known as someone who doesn’t have much to say.
I began to go deeper in prayer and imagined what it must have been like to spend time in the presence of the Holy Family. I found myself at a gathering in their sacred home — all of the visitors stood around in their small, humble space admiring and speaking with Mary and Jesus. Folks were enjoying their food and drinks conversing and completely enraptured by the presence of the Blessed Mother and her Son.
And St. Joseph? He stood a little off to the side, back slightly pressed up against the wall. His arms were folded as he grinned with pure love radiating across his face. An expression that read that he couldn’t be more content witnessing the joy of others receiving the presence of Jesus and Mary — the two people he loved the most.
Reflecting the Father
In the book, “St. Joseph: Shadow of the Father,” Andrew Doze describes the way in which St. Joseph’s role in Jesus’ life was not passive as the world has come to believe, but in fact it was an active role in which he was able to show Jesus who the heavenly Father is. As Jean-Jacques Oliver states: “The admirable St. Joseph was given to the earth to express the adorable perfection of God the Father in a tangible way. In his person alone, he bore the beauties of God the Father, his purity and love, his wisdom and prudence, his mercy and compassion. … The Father, having chosen this saint to make of him his image on earth, gives him along with himself a likeness of his invisible and hidden nature and, in my view, this saint is beyond the state of being understood by the minds of humans” (“La Journée Chrétienne”). St. Joseph was essential in Jesus’ life to reflect the Father’s love, protection and devotion poured out upon his Son, and therefore to all of his beloved sons and daughters.
Reflecting on St. Joseph in my own prayer, I noticed that the importance of his role came not through speaking but through his actions and mere presence. Even without words, he is a living, breathing image of God the Father. He is the quiet one, and through his quietness, he lets Mary and Jesus shine. Mary and Jesus are the words. Literally the Word made Flesh and his mother. Therefore, St. Joseph is an illustrator. He is the one who stands in the back, and his silent presence creates space for others to shine. Just as in a book, he reflects the word, allowing goodness and splendor to be mirrored by his humble stillness. Even in his silence, his presence is enough. It brings something totally different but totally necessary to the world — a new kind of image, a colorful and vibrant one that words cannot be. Yet, both are fully and completely what they should be, which is nothing more and nothing less than good.
Knowing your identity
Each time I reflect on this prayer experience, I am struck by St. Joseph’s tone and disposition. His words come not from a place of being frustrated or wanting to be pitied. He doesn’t wish to be the center of attention, and he doesn’t feel threatened by others’ place in the story. Instead, his voice exemplifies a certain confidence and acceptance of himself and his role in the Father’s plan. St. Joseph’s response makes it clear that he is rooted in the Father’s unconditional love. He knows his identity and worth and is able to live out the mission given to him from the Lord.
Through this prayer, God granted me the grace to view myself through a new lens — the same one through which St. Joseph views himself. I no longer see my quietness to be a quality that causes me to be somehow lesser or lacking. Instead, it is a quality bestowed on me by God in which I am able to live out the mission he has given me. I am able to live in a way that is different from what society tells me — that in order to be seen and heard, I have to constantly make myself seen and heard. Instead, I can be content with the way in which I was created and trust that my quiet disposition actually allows me to contribute to the world in the same way in which an illustrator contributes to a book. I can create space and visibly complement and reflect others’ words and goodness, therefore reflecting God’s goodness in a particular and unique way — a way that offers a special view into the splendor of his light and glory.
By first being rooted in the Father’s love, I can live out my identity freely and authentically (even in my quietness) knowing that I am completely seen, known and loved by the Father simply by being his beloved daughter. And what a lovely thing to be.