Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Now What?

If you turn on the news or open your eyes a little each day, you will see that the world we live in harbors a great deal of pain. Scratch a little below the surface of every living person you meet, and you will encounter it. I used to have a tremendous amount of pain in my life. You didn’t need to probe, it bled out my pores. But even with all the healing that has gone on in my life, even after re-training myself to deal differently with stresses and destructive thoughts, I am still living with pain that is surprisingly not very deep beneath the surface. I imagine we all are.

As a compassionate human being, my heart goes out to those who are struggling. As a Christian, I believe I have a responsibility to reach out with God’s blessing and power to help them. I feel a bit unique in the fact that I have survived a great variety of painful experiences in my life. I can relate to some the way others cannot. Romans 8:28 says that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” I feel like I should be allowing God to use me to relate to those who are going through the same struggles I have already gone through. I don’t want to think that I went through all that pain for nothing. I realize that had I not been in that much pain, I may never have been desperate enough to reach out to God, and for that reason alone, I am grateful that I did endure them. But there’s got to be more.

I am a dork. I lack initiative, but I never lack passion. I'm always dreaming and coming up with these lofty goals to help people. But I am sooo not a detail person. I rarely care about the details. I am flighty and spontaneous, and if I think for a second that I could be of help to an orphanage in Uganda, then you’ll find me trying to figure out how to get over there. I don’t consider that it might cost a lot of money for an international flight. I don’t consider what I’d do with my kids while I was there. I don’t consider which orphanage to work with or how long I’d need to be there to do any good. I always assume those things will work themselves out. I could find a way to get the money. The kids would probably love to come with me and help. I’m sure any orphanage I came across wouldn’t turn down an extra set of hands, so to me these things don’t matter.

But the unfortunate reality is that they do matter. And honestly, I am blessed to have a husband who does consider the details, although maybe a little too much. So much so, in fact, that I haven’t yet made it to a Ugandan orphanage.

Maybe someday I will. Maybe that’s not in the plans that God has laid out for me.

You can encounter pain everywhere you look. You don’t have to travel overseas to reach the struggling. Your neighbor may need someone to talk to. The elderly woman up the road may need someone to help her get her groceries on a weekly basis. These aren’t things I would be opposed to doing. They wouldn’t require much out of me, but they would mean the world to the people receiving the effort.

I just don’t know how to seek them out. Usually we put on a happy-go-lucky face when we leave our front doors in the morning, and to the casual observer, we don’t look like we are dealing with much pain. I don’t want to pry. I don’t feel like I need to have a block party and invite all my neighbors over just to sit them down under a spotlight and play good cop/bad cop to force them to confess their stresses to me. There have been days when I thought about setting up a confession booth in the cul-de-sac down the road to get people to tell me about their lives. I realize I can't do that, but I do wish people would be more authentic.

Of course, if all my neighbors came out of their front doors screaming and crying and tearing at their hair, their faces all slippery and slobbery and pockets pulled inside out to show their poverty, I don’t think I’d leave my house!

When I read a Christian book about how to engage my community or how to reach the world and fight injustice and all these things that I could do to bring glory to God, I end up with a belly full of passion but no game plan. And I’m not one that needs to be convinced that my walk is shallow and that I don’t live like I believe that my God can move mountains. I am reading these books to find out what specifically to do, not that something needs to be done and that I’m the one to do it. I can’t come up with any details on how to implement what I’ve just read. I don’t know how to get involved. There are so many people out there doing all these amazing things to help people and introduce them to Jesus. As a Christian, why am I not among them? I pray for people, I donate my used clothes and shoes to Goodwill, I give money at our church so the youth can build houses for people less fortunate, but it never feels like it’s enough. It feels a bit stale, a bit too easy, like it doesn’t take a lot of effort. Or faith. I don’t want to stop doing those things, but I don’t really feel like I’m giving my life to God.

I will read these books and even find an index at the back full of websites and other resources that I can look into to get more involved. And when I visit the websites, I encounter more facts about the problem and the need for someone like me to do something about it. Do what about it? What can I do? Tell me! I don’t know what to do next. The book won’t tell me to ask for Mr. Jones, who will then meet me at a local Starbucks and walk me hand in hand down to the homeless shelter and introduce me to these nice, non-violent, non-drug addicted families who’ve just been dealt a crushing blow and are in need of a one-time donation of $20 and some socks. And that if I do this, the families will then be skyrocketed into a stable job with a comfortable house in a nice school district and that their pain will be something they tell their grandchildren about that makes them stronger each and every morning.

It just doesn’t work like that.

But even if it did, I wouldn’t know that I was supposed to contact Mr. Jones in the first place.

I realize that the suggestions in books are meant to be open-ended. Even Jesus’ commands are a bit grey – “Love your neighbor as yourself,” “Judge not unless you want to be judged,” “Let your body be a living and holy sacrifice.” What exactly does that look like? What is it I’m specifically supposed to do?

I believe that for a reason it’s open for interpretation. We were each given particular talents that we are just naturally good at. I think I’m a decent communicator. I love dialoguing. I like to read and write and be involved in that whole conversation. My husband – not so much. But he is the quickest person besides Jesus Himself to forgive a person. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. I am truly blessed by this gift. But if you ask him what his talents are, he won’t mention it. To him, it’s not all that significant. But it’s a talent I wish I possessed, that’s for sure. I notice it and count it because for me, I struggle to forgive others when they hurt me. I imagine that a lot of the time we don’t consider our gifts for what they are. I imagine we don’t count them when we’re trying to see what good we could do for others. Last week in church, we talked about this very thing. We were supposed to share our talents with a person next to us. And when my mother in law and my husband shared theirs with me, I was surprised that they didn’t mention others that are so obvious to me.

So to engage our hurting neighbors, I think we are to identify our God-given talents, figure out what our passions are and then find a need in the world where we would fit like a glove. And if we do it for God’s glory, we can’t go wrong.

Now if I could only find a book that had a chart in it that listed all the needs in the world and connected them to people with particular passions and talents. Then we would be talking.

If you are good at _____ and you love to _____, then the _____ people in ______ could really use your help.

Just don’t ask me to write that book. I have no idea where I fit in this world, but I highly doubt being the author of that book would be it.

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