Posts Tagged ‘reaching out’

Our son Patrick has a big heart, and when he was younger, his response to seeing a hurting child (e.g. starving, abused, poor..) was always the same, “We could adopt them, and they can stay in my room”. I always loved that impulse in him; not only the desire to reach out to those in need, but also a willingness to sacrifice something of his own to make it happen.  I’d like to think we cultivated that in him, as we’ve tried to be a family that consistently extends ourselves for the people we encounter.  Throughout his formative years, my wife’s mother, who was legally blind and unable to walk, lived with us.  After my dad passed away, my mother came to live with us for some years as well.  At other times, we’ve housed folks who were homeless, addicted, and/or otherwise at risk.  Like Patrick, we had a hard time walking by someone who was hurting, and not wanting to help.  But in those years, when the kids were really young, there was a practical reality that also set in.  With so many people depending on us for physical, financial, spiritual, and emotional support, our resources (e.g. time, energy, patience, money..) became taxed way beyond our capacity to replenish them.  After a period of years, we found ourselves exhausted, deeply in debt and becoming somewhat cynical about our fellow man.


At that point, there were many people who stepped up to share their wisdom with me, which essentially said that I was foolish to have poured so much into other people’s lives, and that I should have been more focused on taking care of my own. Some pointed out that I had ultimately compromised my family’s security because I’d not been more protective of our assets.  As much as I wanted to argue with them, there was ample evidence that we needed to make some changes.  Even so, I never wanted to become the kind of person who was oblivious to other people’s struggles, and I definitely didn’t want to be the kind of neighbor feasting on prime rib, while my neighbors are rummaging for scraps.  So I began to look for the middle ground between my son’s eagerness to take in every orphan, and the pragmatists, who were urging me to be more cognizant of our limited resources.  It’s a balance that we’re still working on all these years later.


My reason for sharing this little narrative is that I think it is representative of where the United States of America finds itself today. There are those idealists who are constantly identifying new groups of people who are in need, and who they believe the U.S. has a moral obligation to care for.  Like my son, I can relate to their passionate urge to reach out to these people.  And then there are the realists, who rightfully point out that even a country as grand as this has a finite capacity to meet all those needs, and that our national credit cards are already maxed out.  As much as I don’t love their message, they are not wrong that something needs to change.


Even though the two ends of this philosophical spectrum are speaking the loudest, I believe that most people find themselves somewhere in the middle. Though we can’t do everything we’d like for everyone who’s in need, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything for anyone other than ourselves.  We need to pick our spots, and to find ways to reach out within the bounds of our resources; both as a nation, and maybe more importantly, on an individual basis.  We need to quit expecting the government to do something on a national scale, that we ourselves are unwilling to do on a local scale.  I believe that the response to the recent natural disasters is a beautiful example of what is possible.  No one needed the government to tell them what had to be done.  We didn’t need to wait for legislation to be passed before taking action.  “We the People” saw what was needed and got busy.  The government has their part too, but it was just regular people who made the immediate difference.  That is the country I still love, and I still believe in.  If we could take all the energy that is currently being spent on protesting what we don’t like, and invest it into tangibly practicing what we say we believe in, there is no end to what we could accomplish.

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It took more years than I’d care to admit to come to the realization that life isn’t really all about me; and then a few more past that point to see that the harder I consciously tried to gain my life, the more I unconsciously lost it.  Though it seemed counterintuitive the first few hundred times I heard it, I eventually came to understand the freedom that comes with surrendering the seat of honor to someone else, and considering others before myself.  Not that I’ve by any means mastered this sacrificial way of living, but we’ve definitely become more outwardly focused in recent years.  That has included simple things, like feeding someone who is hungry, or lending a helping hand; and at times it’s entailed more complex and difficult things, like reaching out to people who are literally dangling from the ledge.


As we’ve walked down this road, we’ve discovered more than a few unpleasant realities.  To be sure, caring for people is a messy business, and God’s economy is much different than our own.  He is more than willing to allow some havoc to go on in our temporal realm in order to propel us toward His eternal goals for us.  And change (even positive change) is a challenging and often painful process.  Many times, it’s the people you’re trying to help who fight you the hardest.  No doubt, Jesus can relate to this; as the very ones He came to rescue decided to lynch Him.  Indeed, He warned His disciples that many in the world hated Him, and that many would hate them as well.  Similarly, Paul said that we would be the “Aroma of Christ”, which would smell like life to some, and death to others.


Our experiences have also caused us to come to a new understanding of the word “success”.  Because if success means that everyone gets saved, everyone gets healed, everyone gets delivered, everyone gets reconciled… then we’d have given up long ago.  The scripture tells us that we can plant seeds and we can water seeds, but that only God can bring the increase; so ultimately the results belong to Him.  All that we can do is play the role that He gives us.  We have helped people to get free from an abusive relationship, only to watch them willingly return to it.  We’ve seen people receive miracles, only to trade their gift for self-destruction, and we’ve watched people ascend from the ashes of their past, only to tunnel their way back into the prison of addiction.  And every time something like this happens your heart breaks again, which is doubtlessly an appropriate reflection of what our Heavenly Father feels.  He doesn’t take away His children’s freewill and He doesn’t give us that option either.


Additionally, we’ve found that helping people doesn’t necessarily breed gratitude or praise.  More often, it stirs up contention.  Jesus spoke of healing ten lepers, pointing out that only one of those returned to thank Him, and when the Pharisees heard he’d healed on the Sabbath, they accused Him of violating the law.  I can’t help but feel that these stories are somewhat prophetic for those who choose to reach out to others.  Like trying to feed a duck in the park, or a gull at the beach, you normally just wind up with a bunch of angry birds flying at your head.  We recently became aware of a need, and reached out to a family within our community.  Through the generosity of our friends and family, this particular need was met.  But instead of being perceived as the blessing that it was, it has stirred animosity amongst those who feel as though they should have received the same sort of gift.  Ultimately, we were criticized for not doing more for the other families who may also have a need.  And every time something like this happens, there is a temptation to say, “I’m never doing this kind of thing again!”  But like most temptations, that is an urge we need to battle.


The scripture is full of directives toward reaching out to others.  It is better to give than to receive; whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me; the religion that God accepts as pure and faultless is caring for widows and orphans; love your neighbor as yourself; the only thing that counts is faith, expressing itself as love; if a man asks for your cloak, offer him your tunic as well; the parable of the Good Samaritan…   We cannot allow the adversity that comes with the mission to keep us from answering the call.  We have to abandon our western ideas about what it means to be “victorious” and learn how to reflect our Father’s heart to a lost and dying world.  His heart is patient, and kind, and merciful, and long suffering, and forgiving, and generous.  We can neither become weary in well-doing, nor wary of it.

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