Friday, April 03, 2009

I want to be more concerned about what might be than about being right about what might not be

I've been thinking about what it means to love our neighbors (not the literal or typical definition but the one given by Jesus and in the OT--anyone I come into contact with who lacks resources, the poor, the immigrant, etc.). And as I thought through what I already do and what I could do to be more loving, my mind wondered down the path of trying to figure out what to do about this one person in my life who I've been trying to love well for the last 8 months despite how infuriating and exhausting he can be. Unlike many, he has access to resources and opportunities that he doesn't avail himself of, making poor choices and not using what he has wisely. Am I wasting time on him that could be better spent helping someone who wants to help himself more?

As I thought, I realized that I was sort of like the lawyer (imagine that) in Luke 10:25-37 in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I'm more interested in defining and limiting the definition of "neighbor" than just loving and taking action. Over the years, I've seen this a lot in my middle class circles--both Christian and otherwise. We'll talk about helping a group/person and somehow get lost in reasons not to ("well they aren't really helping themselves" or "maybe this isn't the best way to do it" or "I probably shouldn't take anything else on right now"). No doubt, a lack of love is often easy to justify.

And it's easy for me to think I get it all so wrong (living in my loft, driving my SUV, typing on my laptop and listening to my ipod and basically living a life of incredible physical comfort and luxury) that I just give up and push all of the poverty and injustice of this world out of my mind. Or I conclude that I just need to move to a third world country (as if my neighbors here don't need love too). In reality I just need to do. I need to write a letter to Pedro in Peru instead of running that last mile. I need to love my infuriating friend well even if he is making destructive decisions. I need to write that check instead of constantly counting the cost (which I don't do so much when it's something I want). I need to have that uncomfortable conversation. I need to talk to the homeless person rather than look away. And I need to humbly rely on God because I know I may be getting it all wrong, but surely it pleases Him that I'm trying no matter how feeble my attempts are. Here are some of the questions I'm asking myself:

"Am I more aware of what I don't have (or want) or of what others need?"

"Am I offering things that don't cost me anything?"

Do I want to give myself away? Do I really believe that I have to lose my life to find it?

p.s. I'm grateful for this video. I didn't like it until 4:30 (thought it was sort of gay; I'm not the interpretative dance kind), but then it totally affected me. Now I'm a fan :)


Aaron said...

I don't believe you have to lose your life in the literal sense, but you have to loosen your grip on the "me-me-me" in order to help others.

Why is helping others so uncomfortable to begin with, yet so rewarding afterwords?

W T G said...

It's good to know that God has stirred your heart enough to write about these issues. It seems that the enemy has a tendency to give us the guilt trip about the blessing we have in comparison to those less fortunate. That's his best work; ruin the blessings of God. We can give in so many ways; through our prayer, through our tithes & offerings, by helping others, volunteering and in all of these remember, God doesn't look upon the action itself but on the attitude of our giving. In terms of loving others when it's hard - I'm personally thankful that God hasn't given up on me when I become
'infuriating and exhausting' to God and to others. In all things, pray about it. Wait on God. Let Him guide you so that you may proceed in the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Be well & good cheers to you Ally !

Kimberly said...

This is a really hard issue and I guess the point is to wrestle with it rather than find a comfortable spot. I have a relationship with someone that is draining and invades my boundaries and I'm not sure how to deal with it. I am learning that the truth is not always easy to say or to hear, and really loving people sometimes means saying or doing things that I don't always want to say or do. But amazingly God somehow seems to use that to show me things about myself that I need to learn or change.

Seized by Hope said...

What you described in this blog in a sense is your willingness to feel things that are uncomfortable and to continue feeling them, to be impacted and moved by them, to be affected and changed. I think in our western comfortable culture we dismiss our call to suffer because we can look to other cultures where it seems the suffering is more profound. So, it's not about getting rid of your suv, moving to the "wrong" side of town, not buying another blouse. It is instead what you've written about, living your life in the context in which you've found yourself willing to stay alive and offer yourself sacrificially to others for the sake of loving them well.

It might actually be easier and cost you less to sell your suv and move to the other side of town and not buy another blouse.

jennifer said...

I love this post -- this is something I think about a lot. It reminds me of this (from C.S. Lewis' "The Screwtape Letters):

"Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrus his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train."

So true, and so much easier said than done!

Ally said...

Aaron: I'm drawn to helping others in ways that aren't uncomfortable to me (working with children, etc.) and wanting to just help in those ways....but you're right--often when I step out of it and do something, it's really rewarding. I guess that's sort of how growing is....glad to have done it even though it stretched us at the time.

WTG: It's always good to be reminded that regardless of how someone is treating me or makes me feel--I've treated the Lord must worse, and He's been faithful. Thanks.

Kimberly: Yep, I think he uses these relationships to refine us, and they definitely make me rely more on Him.

Seized by Hope: I think your last sentence was so spot on. That's just the physical and not what He's after anyway. It's changing my heart and giving up things of consequence--sacrificially.

Jennifer: I've read that two or three times now....and I'm still lost! I feel like I need a translator (or a much less foggy weekend brain.) I love Lewis, so I'm sure he's saying something's just escaping me :)

KennethSF said...

I've always felt that if I let compassion guide me, I'm less likely to go astray or do wrong.

The reality is, there's a limit to how effective you can be in helping someone who's not willing or not ready to help himself. But perhaps you'll be less frustrated with him and less disappointed by the outcome if you see his shortcomings and bad judgments with compassion.

Somehow, I don't think you're meant to, nor do you need to, deliberately put yourself in discomfort to help others. Your willingness to reach out to people who make you feel uncomfortable is no small sacrifice. I wouldn't call that offering something that doesn't cost you anything.

cat_chaser said...

To your "Schindler's Question", the answer is NO, you don't have to move, if you think you're doing enough.
I know, I shouldn't possibly justify my life over a hungry kid or the ridiculousness of existence of injustices. But If I go down that trajectory out of guilty, where I ( I'm not justifying crooks who got rich on easy street ) have something some else doesn't, would hardly give me peace of mind. It would possibly make me more critical of others who haven't done a darn thing about injustices.
I know I can't play God, but I can party in Cana :)

Ys said...

Such a wonderful blog post :) Definitely gives you food for thought. I love these posts you write :)

Ally said...

Ys: Thank you :)

CC: Good call. I don't want to operate out of guilt but out of an overflow of gratitude.

Kenneth: A lens of compassion and love is definitely the perspective I need to keep. As for discomfort, I think that living out the Gospel is going to necessarily cause discomfort (and which you're right...that kind of discomfort is a sacrifice I shouldn't discount).

jennifer said...

Maybe I should have clarified that that quote (and all of "The Screwtape Letters") is from the perspective of a "senior demon" advising an "apprentice demon" on how to trip up Christians. Sorry ... it makes no sense whatsoever without knowing that. :)

Ally said...

Jennifer: Alright I feel much less stupid now~! With that context, it totally clicks now. Thanks.

OK Chick said...

Great post. I love this paragraph...
I need to have that uncomfortable conversation. I need to talk to the homeless person rather than look away. And I need to humbly rely on God because I know I may be getting it all wrong, but surely it pleases Him that I'm trying no matter how feeble my attempts are.
I feel the same way. I know I'm not doing everything right or even doing everything he commandes, but I'm trying. I guess each day we just need to try a big more. Again, good post. It really hit home with me.

Ally said...

OK Chick: You may have meant a "bit" more, but I like the idea of trying a big more each day.

OK Chick said...

Right...that's what I was going for, see you can read my thoughts!