“Life is not tried, it is merely survived,

 if you’re standing outside the fire.”

When country singer Garth Brooks wrote those lyrics in 1993, I wonder if he thought it might lead to prayer. I also wonder whether he would have seen any connection to how Vincentians choose not to stand outside the fire.

A Sister of Charity friend of mine made the connection that has often fed my prayer. Let’s explore.

Standing outside the fire…

First, l should say I was not a follower of country music. Country music was out of my comfort zone.

So, I was caught by surprise when she had me listen to it. For the next couple of days, I could not get it out of my head! In the decades since, the lyrics have often led me to prayer. But more so in recent years. More about that in a moment.

The lyrics are basically a comment about the refrain. “Life is not tried, it is merely survived, if you’re standing outside the fire.” A sample…

We call them cool
Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go
And risk the tables being turned

We call them fools
Who have to dance within the flame
Who chance the sorrow and the shame
That always comes with getting burned

But you’ve got to be tough when consumed by desire
‘Cause it’s not enough just to stand outside the fire

Full lyrics and recording Well worth reading and listening

A Vincentian reading of standing outside the fire

Vincent de Paul thought he knew what he wanted from life – security and the ability to care for his parents.

Events at two small parishes woke him up to the reality of spiritual abandonment and the physical misery of those on the margins. His vision shifted from “What’s in it for me” to “what’s in it for the body of Christ hidden in the broken and disfigured body I see… or don’t see.

Vincent stepped into the fire of God’s love

When sending forth his first missionaries, St. Vincent de Paul said

“our vocation is to go, not just to one parish, not just to one diocese, but to all over the world, and to do what?  To set people’s hearts on fire, to do what the Son of God did.  He came to set the world on fire in order to inflame it with his love.”

Vincent’s followers stepped in that fire

  • Louise de Marillac had hoped to spend her life in a convent but was refused. Then, she thought she might find what she was looking for in her marriage and her children. Finally, she woke up to the needs of the world around her. To her surprise, she became the guide for generous young peasant women who wanted to serve their less fortunate sisters and brothers.
  • Frederic Ozanam shifted from using mainly his intellect to defend the faith, to becoming the champion of the marginalized of his day.
  • Elizabeth Ann Seton had it all – privilege, security, and a loving marriage. She then lost it all… but went on to discover the Eucharist. She changed the face of education for children of young Catholics.

By paying attention to events, they each woke up to fire of God’s love in their hearts. Each woke up to paying attention to the needs of their brothers and sisters.


Centuries after Pentecost, literally millions in the wider Vincentian Family have allowed themselves to be transformed by the fire of God’s love in their hearts. They continue to invite others into the fire of God’s love.

“Life is not tried, it is merely survived if you’re standing outside the fire.”

Click below for an early audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk