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.
With Father's Day passing this last Sunday, it got me thinking about the first night I was a father. My wife and I were in the hospital room with the portable crib close by. We were both exhausted from the events of the day and laid down to rest as our baby slept peacefully. As I attempted to go to sleep my mind kept thinking about this precious new life sleeping close by. The very act of birth changed who I was because I was now also a father. I accepted the added responsibility to care for this life and raise him with love and compassion. My mind wandered through what this meant and the hopefulness I had for what my baby's life could be.
I also vividly remember the concern I had for this baby. Was he still ok? Is there anything that could obstruct his breathing? What if I am asleep and can't respond if he needs me? These worries had me getting up multiple times to check that his little chest was going up and down. It was after some time of doing this dance from bed to crib that I found myself praying. It was in this prayerful moment where I accepted the thought and fact God gave him lungs to breath and I have to trust he can do that. It was reassuring as I was reminded that in life is power. This little baby though dependent on others is already adapting to this new world. I also recognized that no matter how hard I try I cannot always be there when things go wrong.
As a father I have to remind myself of these first moments often. When my worries sneak up into my thoughts I tell myself God has empowered us to grow and use the abilities we have in this world. Sometimes it will be difficult however we are resilient and powerful in nature. My role is helping them navigate the waters of their life while upholding their worth and value.
I'm An Imperfect Father
I am human and many times I am not at my best when it comes to parenting. Especially when there is added stress from relationships, finances, employment, etc. that impact our mood. Kids have a way of making us transform from a peaceful cat to a ferocious beast just because our litter box has been moved.
I too often overreact, jump to conclusions, blow things out of proportion, or am inconsistent in my approaches. This after the fact brings shame and guilt for not being who I hope to be as a parent. I have come to find we often do not share these thoughts which are very common. We do the best we can with what we have. But that doesn't mean we cannot work at being better and research various strategies that can help improve our approaches.
What Kids Need
Kids need love, compassion, and empathy from their caregivers. When we as parents are able to love our children and help them navigate the rough waters of their life in an empathetic way their brain responds positively. It trains their inner neural processes to feel safe knowing they have the ability to make decisions, problem solve, and work through stress. Most of our first brain development happens from age 0-4.
One study showing the impact of trauma and stress on children is the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) conducted by Kaiser Permanente in the 90's which looked at health conditions of obese people who experienced various trauma in their childhood. What they found was the higher number of traumatic experiences or household dysfunction among youth created more severe health concerns as adults. So what our children experience from the households we create and the interactions we have produce a lifelong affect. That's why its so important we uphold our children with value and worth and find ways of dealing with our own stress in effective, non-harmful ways. If you want to take the quiz and figure out your ACE score click here.
So what are some good resources to help with parenting? There are tons of information out there on the internet but here are a few.
Collaborative Problem Solving - Developed by Dr. Ross Greene and Dr. Stuart Ablon in conjunction with Massachusetts General Hospital as a response to the research of adverse childhood experiences by Dr. Bruce Perry. Its an approach focused on listening and creating open communication with your child while also empowering them to come up with potential solutions to concerns. If you want to learn more watch this video "Rethinking Challenging Kids".
Parenting 101 - This website was developed by the Child Development Institute which gives basic tips on parenting and how to handle various challenges.
Conscious Discipline - Is an approach focusing on creating a safe, connected, problem solving environment for your child. It works on developing choice in kids and uses moments of conflict as opportunities to teach and learn. To learn more go to the website.
God As A Father
Being a father has added a new dimension to my spirituality and understanding of God. With this added role, responsibility, and privilege I get to witness and be a part of lives growing into who they were created to be. It is truly incredible to witness the process of ongoing change. It seems everyday their perspective of the world positively impacts mine if I let it. The lessons I learn about being a father lets me continue to let go and trust in my heavenly parent.
Many times God is depicted as a male fatherly figure. This can make some uncomfortable depending on our own beliefs about the divine or our relationship with male figures growing up. The words we use try to identify the divine so we can have some contextual way to perceive God. It can be useful to try to see God in various ways to expand our understanding what God can be.
For me God as a father figure paints a picture of a loving, compassionate parent who helps me navigate the world I live in. He allows me to make decisions and learn as I decide the journey of my life. He suggests potential directions or options but ultimately the decisions are up to me. Throughout those decisions he supports and empowers me to be my best and to do it with happiness. Throughout my journey he is with me though I may not realize it.
There are times when the storms in life may be too much. During them I am always welcome to find comfort in his arms until I am able to travel again. It is in his loving arms I find peace, love, and empathy. He knows me for who I am at my core despite what roles and names I take on from the world. It is this genuine, precious life he sees and loves. His constant love abides in me.
Everyday through my kids I am reminded of this love God has for me and how he is working in my life.
Thank you for all the positive comments and those following along!
This week be thankful for the children we have in this world and say a prayer for them.
Camino de Santiago also known as "The Way of St. James" is a pilgrimage leading to the supposed remains of St. James in Northwestern Spain. Hundreds of thousands of individuals walk the spiritual journey each year hoping to find themselves, their purpose or just their way in this world that they live. Some carry tremendous burdens down the trodden paths that so many have walked before. It is on these paths where individuals no longer walk by themselves but are together searching for healing, reconciliation, belonging and self-worth. It is a journey of love!
We are all on a journey to love whether on a historic pilgrimage or just our everyday lives. The searching for this higher power is what transforms us if we let it. So let's explore what love is and what role it has in community.
What is love?
Oprah interviewed Pastor Wintley Phipps about his definition of love.
"Love is when you choose to be at your best when the other person is not at their best. Love is when what you want is never important. But what the other person needs and wants is always paramount."
I think there are some great points we can gather from this definition but I would also encourage you to read through 1 Corinthians 13. You can also check out how our brains are affected by aspects of love at SITNBoston.
1. Love is a Choice - This is what first stands out to me. We can choose to love every moment of every day and every person of that day.
2. Asks for Your Best Self - Love pushes us to be our best selves. I find this being so difficult at times but should be our ultimate goal when we love others. Healthy relationships and organizations help others move further along their journey to who they want to be. For more information about being your best self go to this blog titled Bestselfology.
3. Moves us into Community - You cannot know someone's best without taking the time to get to know their worst. Love pushes us forward into relationships and community. It is in community where love happens. Community knocks down the walls of division and unites us together. Our own personal inadequacies take on a different light and we are accepted for who we are. This is what love does.
4. Love Removes Ourselves - We all have things we want in our lives. However for us to truly love we must set aside our perception that our wants are important when compared to others needs. Our focus cannot be internal but an outward focus on others. Emptying ourselves of those selfish desires.
5. It Upholds People - The last part is the need for us to lift others up. Affirming and encouraging relationships that focus on the needs of others is at the heart of the virtue. Loving others is essentially moment by moment lifting others up. When this happens loving communities are formed and self-worth is renewed.
Communities of Love
Just like the Camino de Santiago many times we start our journey individually with our own purpose, goals, and burdens. However as we travel we share with others and suddenly realize our journey is not just our own. It's an intricately woven pathway that is connected with those that cross our paths. Our selfish desires move to the back while we uphold the weary travelers we meet along the way. Our hardships become easier and our decisions more meaningful. It is in these places and relationships where community changes who we are and sometimes even our destinations. Communities of love transform us!
Say "yes" this Advent season to the journey before you. This journey that brings us all into loving community if we allow it. Do not shy away because of the burdens you carry but choose to love.
Let's leave you with this awesome video about how communities of love can happen if we allow it. Plus the tune and dancing in it are just fun!
Advent season is moving right along! Please place yourself in loving community this week whether at church, in a coffee shop or a place of your choosing. Join us next week as we explore the virtue of Joy!
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
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.