It’s that time of year! Lights, trees, snow, Christmas music, gingerbread houses, stockings.. Angel Tree gift trees and Salvation Army bell-ringers are out in full force! I could write a whole post about how you need to go get an Angel Tree tag and buy a gift, and I would feel good about it.. but I won’t. For the past few years I’ve helped out with the application day for Salvation Army’s Angel Tree (it’s like Angel Tree except the gifts are for children in low-income families, not necessarily children with an incarcerated parent). I just love it. It’s just before Thanksgiving time so it gets me in the holiday mood, I get to meet moms and dads and see the precious kids that the gifts will be for, I get to interact with a lot of different kinds of people (my social work brain goes crazy 🙂 ) and I even get to use my Spanish some. This year I ran into a couple of people who were 100% put together – I assumed the either worked at the Salvation Army or were there to volunteer like me. But no, they were there to apply for assistance. And it was striking to me. I started thinking about our motivation for helping people, for volunteering, for serving others. It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I wasn’t sure of my motivation for being at the Salvation Army that day, but it occurred to me that it could have been that we are all fundamentally the same. We are in this together. What if I could serve others out of the idea that we are all on the same road of life? As though you are a part of me?
Follow my train of thought if you will…
It seems to me that there’s a thought within our charity, volunteering, and serving that “we” have something that “they” don’t. They need what we have, so we help them out. Most of the time there’s truth to that – that’s the basis of charity and caring for the poor, etc. And I’m all about that! I’m passionate about connecting needs with resources. What would it look like if it was less about their need and what we have to offer and more about the fact that we are all basically the same just trying to figure out this wild thing called life. But carry that thought out…
Is there the subconscious idea of, “They’re lacking (in whatever area). Wow, that could be me! I’m so glad it’s not me! I’m going to give to them out of gratefulness for what I have and the fact that I’m not in that situation”?
What would I do if my best friend lost their job and was suddenly homeless? I would do what it takes to get them back on their feet. Why? For no other reason that they’re one of mine. It could be me, or my brother, or my father, or my niece. And we do anything for our people. And we don’t help them out because “they’re there, I’m not, and I’m grateful.” I help them not because I’m grateful I’m not in her shoes, but because she is one of mine. One of us. As though you are a part of me.
It’s a subtle difference in thinking and I don’t know if it’s important or if it even makes a practical difference. But I’ve been thinking about it and I noticed all those lines of thought inside my own head. What do you think?
Lately I’ve been reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison. What a treat! I just love Bonhoeffer and reading his correspondence about day-to-day things is like getting inside his head. What a neat way to hopefully grow to be a little bit more like someone I admire. Anyway, he wrote this in a letter to his parents after months of imprisonment:
“It’s remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves. It is only then that we feel how closely our own lives are bound up with other people’s, and in fact how the centre of our own lives is outside ourselves, and how little we are separate entities. The ‘as thought it were a part of me’ is perfectly true…”
He nailed it!! That quote sums it up. Maybe that quote can take the place of this whole post…
Not only are we all living on planet earth encountering similar struggles, but we all stand on the same ground at the foot of the Cross. We have nothing on each other when we stand in the shadow of the Cross. Tim Keller says, “the gospel tells us that we are all unclean without Christ, and all clean in Him.” I want to interact with people in a way that reflects that idea. C.S. Lewis says in the Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” We’re staring at the image of God, folks.
The other day I talked to a Salvation Army bell-ringer. Image of God. A fellow grace-needer just like me. He worked all day – from 10am-8pm, but he was hoping he would get picked up earlier (it sounded like he came from a homeless shelter) since it was getting chilly outside.
Yesterday I chatted with a man on the side of the road with a “struggling financially” sign. Image of God. A fellow grace-needer just like me. He had been doing landscaping work and had just lost his job.
My immediate family was all together at Thanksgiving. Images of God. Fellow grace-needers.
The people at my church. Images of God. Fellow grace-needers.
It’s us, not me. Selflessness. My mentor recently told me, “All of life is about laying your life down. The sooner you learn that the better.” Amen. I need someone to tell that to me every single morning.. and probably again by lunch time! 🙂 It’s not about me.
“When we emphasize providing others with what they need rather than figuring out who we are, what is most valuable, real, and substantial about us will surface. Giving out of compassion for recognized human need stirs us to boldly give the very best we have.” -Larry Crabb
As though you are a part of me.