This week we are going to step back from Isabela and spend time with the eldest Madrigal sister, Luisa. Luisa’s gift is strength. I wish I could have been in the room when the idea of a donkey valet service was floated and accepted. Yes, Luisa is super strong and one of her many, many duties is to “park” everyone’s donkey as they come to Antonio’s gift celebration.
Luisa is everywhere. She seems to have an uncanny ability to be available to respond to any need or request. Need a piano? Luisa can bring it over. Need your donkey parked? Luisa can get it. Got a bunch of rocks to move, furniture to haul, a house to relocate? Luisa, Luisa, Luisa. She does everything with a smile and doesn’t seem to complain.
Thinking back to Isabela, the mask she wore was one of aloof perfection. Luisa’s is different. She is, to quote Minnie Mouse, a “happy helper.” No frowns, groans, or hesitation. She is ready and able in the here and now.
Again, this facade only goes skin deep. Mirabel goes to Luisa to ask her about the miracle, her gift and their Uncle Bruno. During the course of the conversation and Luisa’s song, we learn a lot about her. The opening lines get me every time:
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of serviceLuisa, Surface Pressure, Encanto
Punch in the gut, isn’t it? Outside looking in, we can easily call out this kind of negative self-talk. Of course Luisa isn’t worthless if she takes a break or chooses to sit down and read a book for an afternoon. But the expectations placed upon her both by others and herself preclude any moment of rest or relaxation.
I don’t know who else needs to hear this today, but it’s something I need most days. I am not able to meet everyone’s needs, and I am not supposed to. I am not superwoman, supermom, super clean, super anything. I am me and me only spreads so far. Should I give freely of my self, act with generosity and kindness, try to offer a smile while doing hard work? A resounding Yes! Do I need to shoulder all of the burdens of others, complete every single task on my list before taking time to eat lunch, and make myself so available I neglect my own basic needs? A resounding No!
You don’t really notice just how much Luisa is taken advantage of until her song. It’s kind of trippy (donkeys make a prominent appearance) but effective. Another line gets me later in the song:
Give it to your sister and never wonder if the same pressure would have pulled you under.Luisa, Surface Pressure, Encanto
How often do we ask others to do something for us, not because we genuinely need help but because we just don’t want to do it ourselves. Another gut punch, right? Luisa is being asked to handle burdens that were not meant for her to bear. She is then taking on even more, convincing herself that this is her place. She is to be “of service” for anyone who needs her. She doesn’t get a will of her own, she doesn’t have choices. She is able and willing. Period.
I’m not saying that we are doing this to anyone in our lives and I hope no one resonated so strongly with Luisa that you see it happening to you. Clearly this is an extreme, fictional example. But if you do recognize characteristics of Luisa in your relationships, think about that. Seek outside advice or professional help if you aren’t sure how to find a proper balance between expected service and help that is freely given.
It’s not all work and sadness for Luisa. Just like Isabela, Luisa experiences a transformation. First, she feels her power drained and this is what prompts her line about worthlessness. She can’t imagine what it would be to be weak. What other gifts does she have besides her strength? She’s never had to contemplate this before. At the end of the movie, Luisa sings “I may not be as strong but I’m getting wiser.” Just before that moment, she, Isabela and Mirabel all raised a slab of stone together, something Luisa would have done on her own at the start. She is growing in wisdom, relying on others’ strength as well as her own.
When we step back and aren’t a “do it all” person, we provide space for others to share their gifts and share the load of the work. No one is meant to do everything themselves. We see this so clearly in Jesus’ ministry. Did Jesus need apostles? No. Was it good and right for Him to teach them, and then share the ministry of preaching with them? Absolutely. He did so much as to send them out on their own, spreading His words and mission. He continues to empower the Church today.
We believe that God has given each of us many gifts, each meant to help us in our unique mission in life. But the gifts given do not outweigh our personhood. We are a unique individual, made in the image and likeness of God. This is at the core of each person and the reason every person is deserving of respect and dignity. We can help hone, cultivate and celebrate the gifts of others. We must cherish the unrepeatable person bearing them no matter who they are.