Not too long ago, I wrote a blog topic relating to serving others in life, contrasting the difference between fixing and helping, and how one is often not at all like the other. So many factors figure in that equation. Differences in power, and how much or little of it people have, can affect being able to effectively "do for others." Differences in intent, and in resources, also affect the ability of parties on all sides of the equation to be receptive as we seek to "serve Christ in all persons," as the Baptismal Covenant offers, "loving our neighbors as ourselves." (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305)
As people of faith, at least as we proclaim it, a large part of being just that means being willing to do for others. Notice, please, that I leave off the second part of the "Golden Rule" in that I don't conclude it with "as you would have them do unto you." That conclusion always brings me up short, more from my own weakness and selfishness than anything else. To conclude that I choose to do for others du to some quid pro quo of reciprocal service breaks down the intent of doing for others as an act of mercy and as an oblation to the glory of God. I start expecting a return, a result.
As a dear friend once offered to me, from the Alcoholics Anonymous ethos: "Expectations are just premeditated resentments."
When I proscribe outcome to the act of doing for others, then I get into a very bad place. I expect gratitude when none is really required. I expect a joyful response, even when that is an impossibility. I expect improvement, perhaps even a "fixing" of the situation....when in reality I must acknowledge that I can do little to change a person so absolutely.
And so, I have come to realize over time that when it comes to the ideal of doing for others, I have to be willing to operate through a few simple axioms:
- People, often, need more than they expect and sometimes expect more than they need. Be Patient
- People are just people, let them be human, fallible and real. Be Forgiving
- Even the best helper can be duped by a good con. Be Discerning
- When you are burned (and you eventually will be if you choose to do for others), remember that the next person you serve is NOT responsible for the hurt sustained by the last person who used you. Be OPEN, let it go and move on....you are needed and your help is desired in God's Kingdom!
It isn't easy to keep all these maxims in mind. I can look back on the last seven days and pick out three occasions when I remembered to hold these ideal close as I did for others. I can pick out eight distinct moments when I failed to live up to even one or two of them, much to the world's detriment as to my own.
What blocks us? Oh, the list is endless:
- I'm tired
- I'm busy
- It's too far to go
- It's too much to do
- I don't like this person:
- they smell
- they talk funny
- they represent some gender/age/class I don't like
- they made bad choices to get to this point
- they continue to make bad choices that keep them at this point
- I have other things I want to do
- I have other people I would rather be with than this person
- I don't want to
- I am afraid I might come up short or make a terrible mistake
- At this moment, for whatever reason...I just don't have enough empathy or sympathy
That's just the beginning of the list. It goes on and on and on. What matters is that we can see those hurdles and choose to step over them. We can choose to offer ourselves up to do for others. We can discover in that offering that instead of having things taken from us, we in fact wind up gaining much in return. We learn about the humanity in other people, people we just a moment before had failed to recognize as God's beloved. We can work harder than we ever had in our lives, and feel refreshed. We can get dirtier than we have ever been, and still feel clean. We can put our own cares and worries into perspective and more often than not discover that while we were helping others, our own troubles actually shrank and diminished in comparison.
Doing for others really matters in this life of faith. It matters because in serving the Christ in other people, we actually wind up coming to better know the Christ in us.