L’Arche Is Where I Belong

Madison Chastain

Published 26 October 2020

I was recently doing some research into the Dunning-Kruger effect. This phenomenon, explained by a chart that looks like a horseshoe, explains how, when we gain a little bit of natural expertise about a subject matter that we’re passionate about, we feel super confident. However, when you invest more time into further and deeper learning, your confidence begins to drop, because you start to realize how much you don’t know!

This is how I felt coming into L’Arche. I first heard of L’Arche from a coworker in California, who knew I had a younger brother with special needs. They thought maybe L’Arche would be a good fit for him as a resident, or for me as a person hoping to do work in disability theology. My first thought was: “Even if this is not the right place for Matthew, it sounds perfect for me! Faith, community and disability – sign me up!”

But when I moved to this new city (Chicago) and started in a graduate program at a new school, I started to realize how little I really knew. I quickly swung into feeling like an imposter: Who was I to help anyone, if my experience was so limited? There is no one-size-fits-all kind of caregiving or community, and I became worried that I wouldn’t fit in.

From my first moment at community night, it was clear: This was a place for me. Members of the Angel House immediately became a source of friendship. What are the chances that all the people I connect well with happen to live in the same house!? These new friends were interested in knowing me, not just what I knew or could do. No one asked about my expertise or credentials, they only asked for a willingness to be myself.

I have found my presence in the house affirmed as valuable, which has given me a sense of belonging as I adjust to a new city. I have also been challenged to enter deeper levels of vulnerability. Will I let myself cry at the Angel House dining room table? Can I assist someone in the shower? Can I cook a meal I’ve never heard of for eight people?

With L’Arche, as I live with chronic health difficulties, I experience being taken care of rather than assessed. As I question the future of my involvement in church, I find faith. As I grieve the loss of a spiritual and academic guide, I find shared suffering in the response to the news of Jean Vanier. And yet all of this aggrandizes the plain truth that L’Arche is simply the friend’s house where you always want to be – who allows you to release the day with a dance party and laugh about the newspaper crossword puzzle!

L’Arche has shown me that sincerity is the root of many graces and that, as I sincerely bring my full and authentic self with an openness to new experiences, I am right where I belong.