In 2005 I took a trip with the organization Outreach International for 10 days to the country of Nicaragua. Outreach mission is about empowering the local communities to come together, access resources, and make decisions for themselves to better their communal lives. Outreach is located in ten countries and uses indigenous workers to begin mobilizing communities. The impact they have had has been incredible.
During the ten days our main job was to witness and observe the participatory human development process happening among the communities. We were not there to dig a well or help the people. They were helping themselves and our help would not empower them to do it themselves. In other organizations or many church mission projects, people go in and complete projects and leave. This leaves the local people the same without gaining skills and helping them become sustainable. So our objective was to just be.
The various communities we went into showed the various levels of the process happening among the people. Some communities had made substantial change while others were just in the beginning stages.
In one community in particular Los Alvores, they had built 50 new concrete homes with metal tin roofs about the size of a 12x12 room within the last three months. However this took five years for the community to get everything in place for it to happen. These were built so every family could have a house. The homes were dream homes for the residents in that community and they all worked hard to contribute to their cause.
We gathered with the community leaders when we arrived to hear about this project. They talked about a man named Jose who had the vision for the project and worked a great deal to get the resources so it could happen. His dream was to see every family spending time together in their own home.
Standing before us was Jose’s father with tears in his eyes. He told us his son whose dream it was, would not be able to see it because he passed away. Jose had an abscessed tooth which he could not have fixed because of the lack of adequate dental care in the community. He died from not receiving proper care. Jose’s father asked for a moment of silence as we thought about his son and the dream he held for this community.
I stood looking at the eyes of Jose’s father. It was in those eyes where I empathetically felt his loss and pain. I could see the love he had for his son. Tears streamed down my face as I had translated “Your son was a great man, I'm sorry for your loss.” After the translation, he reached out and hugged me. It was in this moment that we were connected. We both lived in two different worlds, spoke different languages, and yet were bonded together by love. I began to understand how we are transformed when we empathetically share our lives and hearts with others.
Let’s explore the concept of empathetically connecting with others and using the gifts we have for good.
Empathetically Connecting With Others
Empathy is recognizing emotions in another while understanding their perspective and reality. Our first step should always be empathy! However so many times we get caught doing the opposite. “Suck it up”, “brush it off”, “don’t let it bother you.” There’s nothing wrong with trying to be tough however it discredits our emotions and moves us further away from identifying and addressing them when they happen.
Empathy is something everyone can do and it doesn’t take long. Many times people just need to know they are heard and cared for. The only concern is if you are someone that takes on the emotions of another which can sometimes be problematic. For more information check out this article by Marcia Reynolds “Can you have too much empathy?” For the majority of people empathy is a way to connect with others and compassionately listen.
The research on how empathy can improve our quality of life has been looked at extensively. Empathy is also the cornerstone of emotional intelligence which has been researched as the biggest indicator for career success. It goes hand in hand with listening to those around you. If you want to become more empathetic go to “Six Habits of Highly Effective People” which identifies six things we can develop in ourselves to become more empathetic.
Using Our Gifts For Others
Jose would have been able to see his dream complete if he had received adequate dental care. It makes we realize the drastic economic and cultural differences in our world. It doesn’t mean we have to give everything away and live like that part of the world but we do need to be mindful of what and how we are consuming. And more importantly how are we using the gifts we have to positively impact those around us. I know many nurses, dentists, and other providers that take trips to impoverished countries to give proper care. This is a great service, but we all do not have those certain gifts or the ability to go to another country.
We each have our own unique gifts which can bring service or joy to people around us. Maybe its telling others jokes to keep them light hearted, or maybe its completing a small house project for someone that can’t or doesn’t know how. Using our gifts for others benefits the communities we are in and provides more opportunities for us to empathetically connect with people. We actually get to be God’s hands and feet when we use what we have learned and been given.
I will leave you with his awesome video about the happiness we receive when using our gifts to help others. I think it’s actually a Thai life insurance advertisement ?! However it does an amazing job of showing what it means to connect empathetically and help others as we can.
I hope you are all enjoying your summer! If you want to spend a week focusing on your relationship with God get signed up for Reunion. Go this Reunion Directory to find one near you. I promise you will not regret your decision.
This week take some time to look at all the great work Outreach International is doing by visiting their website. You can even donate money by buying a chicken or a goat for one of the communities which helps them become more sustainable.
Every year the Salina Community of Christ holds a clothing drive for three weeks helping those out in the city that need extra items. This last year they saw over 150 people come through and gave out three turkey's to families in need. One interesting situation took place this year that took those helping by surprise. There was a family in attendance whose house had just burned down. The Pastor took the family through helping them find the sizes they needed. At one point he looked up and everyone else in the room had stopped. They were all looking at the family and apparently knew of their recent situation. Some people stepped back so they had room while others began shouting out the sizes they needed. The attendees of the clothing drive searched table by table and even gave up the items they had already taken for themselves. The people provided service by searching and disregarded their own desires for the sake of others who they felt needed it more than them. This was not pity but a sacrificial love for others.
Sacrificing our own wants and desires for the benefit of something more important or worthy can be powerfully freeing. Sacrifice is an interesting and controversial issue among some groups. Let's look closer at how sacrifice can play a role in our spiritual life, what is sacrificial love, and if we should have limits of what to give.
Drum Major for Justice
Since today we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., I think its imperative we take a little time to pull him into this discussion of sacrifice. Martin Luther King believed in equality for all people. It was a cause that meant so much that he was willing to take the risks of harm, jail, and even death in order to ensure those for others. The peaceful, non-violent marches raised awareness of the injustice happening in America. He believed his sacrifices and personal harm was little compared to the worthy cause of equality. There are many ways Martin Luther King lived this out in his life but maybe there was nothing more widespread as his sacrificial love for others in the belief we are "the beloved community". This spoke through his actions in attempting to end racism and give equal rights to all. For more information on Martin Luther King please read the TIME Magazine "What People Still Don't Know About Martin Luther King Jr."
Injustice still happens in our world, even surrounding some of the same issues Martin Luther King Jr. fought for and against. It is our actions as a beloved community which can eliminate injustice and show sacrificial love for others.
Sacrificial Love and Our Spiritual Life
Sacrificial love is about giving up our own selfish desires for those of others. Agape love would be another term used for it. You are making a choice to respect and honor another individual while seeking their overall well being. This type of love is of moral integrity and is at the heart of God. Our spiritual lives can thrive when we choose to love sacrificially in the situations life presents.
Check out this video by the Bible Project describing Agape love and how Jesus modeled this in his life and ministry.
If we allow our love to expand for the well being of others around us people are impacted in creative and life changing ways. Are you currently living out sacrificial love in your work and personal life? How would you be different if you choose to sacrificially love those around you?
When we seek the heart of God by sacrificially loving those around us our spiritual lives deepen. Our own personal desires suddenly become aligned with the will of God for our lives. We listen more attentively, walk more confidently, and open our eyes to the needs of others. I love this song by Jeremy Camp "Empty Me" because it speaks to opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God in our lives.
Limits and Boundaries to Sacrificial Love
Sometimes we will go out of our way to help others. We might think if we just give more and try harder it will happen. However sometimes that is not the case. Giving can be tiresome, and emotionally exhausting, especially if it is always one-sided.
Somewhere along the way we have equated sacrificial love to giving everything for others, even if its not good for us. Sacrificial love is at the heart of God but does God want us to personally suffer from our giving? And if so how does that impact our spiritual life?
I think it comes down to us really knowing who we are and what we want. Sometimes others can take advantage of people knowing they will give if they ask. Other times people might try to shame or guilt us into actions. Sacrificial love always comes from our desire to help but it has to be our desire. If we are doing it from a position of obligation, worry, or attempt to keep a relationship than I would argue it is not sacrificial love. It seems like we need to have healthy boundaries that protect us and lead us into relationships of respect and accountability.
Aaron Ben-Zeev wrote an article on Psychology Today titled "Does Love Involve Sacrifice or Compromise" which discusses sacrifices in relationships which might be helpful for you. Chiara Mazzucco's blog "3 Toxic Signs of Sacrificial Love: Why it Doesn't Work and How to Detach" describes some of the issues of not having healthy boundaries in our life and how they impact our relationships.
Now there are some people who would argue sacrificial love is never wrong. We give and do not expect anything in return. We love without conditions and do not look back no matter what or how others treat us. What do you think?
I think its important to remember Jesus had boundaries and expectations for others especially those in power. Jesus met the needs of others but did not let others walk all over him. He peacefully and confidently handled concerns upholding the worth of others and himself.
As I stated above sacrificial love is a controversial topic however its important we think and talk about it. We each have to decide what it means for our lives and what boundaries we should have.
Questions for Discussion
When have you seen sacrificial love displayed?
When is a time you have given of yourself for another?
What injustices are happening in your community?
Should there be limits or boundaries for ourselves when we love sacrificially with others? If so what should those be?
How do you align values, lifestyle with God's will for your life?
Thank you all for following along and sharing! This week think how you sacrificially love others and what boundaries are helpful for you.
The other day my two boys and I were at the grocery store picking up some ingredients to make homemade salsa. As we were leaving, I lifted my 3 year old out of the cart and somehow he bumped his leg against the side. A little cut, a cm long appeared over his right knee as he started crying. I held him and wiped away the dot of blood that was forming. In that moment he was feeling physical pain and discomfort. As I walk my hurt son to the car, I educate him on the healing process of our body. I lift him into the car and with his lip out he points to his knee and says "Daddy its healing, but healing hurts." It was in those small words that I saw the profound wisdom of the moment. Healing Hurts! It does, its a process sometimes a long process. Especially when we are talking about healing our hearts and relationship with God through our faith community. For those of us who have scraped our knees we know the moment will pass and we will move on. When our faith is shaken it's much harder to move forward. There are many ways in which faith institutions have caused harm to others. In this post I am just going to briefly touch on a few below.
Hurt by Relationships
There are many who have been hurt by institutions of faith. Places who say they love all people but yet do not allow others to fully participate. Where would Jesus draw a line in the sand at in this day and age when it comes to someone's wholeness? How are you lifting others up in a way that affirms who they are? I believe faith is meant to be lived out with others. It is in others whom we encounter God. And through that community growth happens, and our faith deepens. When others hurt, judge, or minimize us, it makes us not want to participate. This too can cause our faith to falter and we distant ourselves from community.
Hurt by Scripture
For some faith communities scripture has been used to prove points and satisfy desires to be right. Others use scripturally literally, as fact without any thought or discussion otherwise. And some use scripture to justify actions which produce injustice and hurt in this world. The use of scripture in these ways inevitably causes division and harm to some of God's beloved children. I included Doctrine and Covenants 163 7a-d below because it states the meaning and misuse of scripture very well.
Doctrine and Covenants 163
7a. Scripture is an indispensable witness to the Eternal Source of light and truth, which cannot be fully contained in any finite vessel or language. Scripture has been written and shaped by human authors through experiences of revelation and ongoing inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the midst of time and culture.
b. Scripture is not to be worshiped or idolized. Only God, the Eternal One of whom scripture testifies, is worthy of worship. God’s nature, as revealed in Jesus Christ and affirmed by the Holy Spirit, provides the ultimate standard by which any portion of scripture should be interpreted and applied.
c. It is not pleasing to God when any passage of scripture is used to diminish or oppress races, genders, or classes of human beings. Much physical and emotional violence has been done to some of God’s beloved children through the misuse of scripture. The church is called to confess and repent of such attitudes and practices.
d. Scripture, prophetic guidance, knowledge, and discernment in the faith community must walk hand in hand to reveal the true will of God. Follow this pathway, which is the way of the Living Christ, and you will discover more than sufficient light for the journey ahead.
Hurt by Inaction
There are people who have been hurt by their faith community not acting quickly or decisively enough. The world changes daily. There are injustices happening all around us and yet faith communities are sometimes slow to meet the needs of the time. Churches can no longer live in the past, or focus on internal happenings, but must live in the community in which they are. Actions need to be thoughtful, thinking holistically about how others will be impacted. The book Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton describes how our actions can have unintended consequences if we do not think them through. Having courage to take action is when faith is lived out. Discerning and identifying what action to take is what is difficult. What action have you been thinking about taking? Where can you be involved in your community? How can your passions affirm another person? Every change starts somewhere, and being stagnant is not an option. One thing I like about Community of Christ is the focus on the present and what we can do today instead of dwelling on the past and what has been.
So as my 3 year old said, healing hurts. Whatever it is that hurt you in the past know that your healing started right then and continues today. Maybe you feel like you just started or maybe you are much further down the path. Wherever you find yourself, continue searching, asking questions, and growing individually. Maybe one day you will find an immense joy through this experience. You may also find the strength to be courageous in living your faith out with a community. My prayers are with you on your journey.
Thank you for all those reading along! Please comment below with a thought from the blog whether its something general or specific. I would love to have some discussion so we can all expand our viewpoints and look at things differently.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.