Friday, March 4, 2016

What We Do with What We Have

I'm sitting here this morning feeling privileged. And wondering what that means.

Last weekend Jordan and I had the opportunity to travel to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We listened to several first generation college students share about the significant people in their lives who believed in them and helped to open doors for their future. Students who are becoming confident servant leaders within the supportive, growth-building community of the Perkins Leadership Fellowship. One student shared that she would have never considered herself a leader a year ago. But now she does. And she's looking for ways that she can impact the world with the gifts God has uniquely blessed her with.

“Godly leadership is not about attaining recognition or glory; it’s about serving others.”
—John M. Perkins

 “To affirm a person is to see the good in them that they cannot see in themselves and to repeat it in spite of appearances to the contrary.” (Brennan Manning)

“Open yourself to God's blessing by dreaming the dream God has for you. He is your Maker, and he made you as a unique being with attributes and abilities that make you different from any other person ever created. He made you this way because he has a function for you to fulfill that you can do better than any other person on earth. He wants to bless you by putting you in a place where you can fulfill it.” (Michael W. Smith)

Jordan is interested in pursuing social work, and at Calvin we were able to sit in on an Intro to Social Work class. The professor challenged the students to think about what would make them different from the client sitting across the desk from them. Would they think that they had worked harder? Made better decisions? Were actually better people?

He said that it would be easy to think of themselves as “better than.” But it really was a matter of Grace. Not as in being favored by God. But as in Amazing Grace.

We all make mistakes in life, he said. But if you're living in poverty one mistake can put you over the edge a lot quicker than if you are middle or upper class. He urged them to look across the desk at their clients as people, not “less than” but like them in more ways than they might imagine.

“The one truth that would help us begin to solve our ethical and political problems (is) that we are all more or less wrong, that we are all at fault, all limited and obstructed by our mixed motives, our self-deception, our greed, our self-righteousness, and our tendency to aggression and hypocrisy.” (Thomas Merton)

The professor asked the students to think about the idea of burnout, and what would keep them going when they faced more failures than successes in their jobs. He wanted them to imagine how they would feel when the people they had tried so hard to help didn't even want their help. And continued to make bad choices. He said that belief in a BIG sovereign God would help them to know that God deeply loves and cares for the people they are trying to help. God could help them get a glimpse of the bigger story He is writing, so as not to take their “failures” personally and give up.

“We must identify a hope that has the power to do something truly wonderful when the dark night descends and we see nothing but pain and disappointment in this life, a hope that does exactly the same thing when the sky is sunny.” (Larry Crabb)

The professor asked the students to consider their motivations for pursuing the challenging field of social work. If it was out of a sense of obligation, for Christian service, burnout would most likely be a struggle they would face sooner rather than later. If they believed that God was leading them into this field as an opportunity to be a blessing, to grow through the difficulties, and to learn from those they encounter, they would be more likely to persevere.

“Hurt is hurt, and every time we honor our own struggle and the struggles of others by responding with empathy and compassion, the healing that results affects all of us.” (Brene Brown)

What does responding with compassion look like?

Chuck Swindoll says that we can look at the parable of the Good Samaritan, and “to use today's terms, ask not 'Is my neighbor really lost and therefore needy?' But is my neighbor's neighbor—namely me—really saved and therefore compassionate?”

And so I am wondering...Am I using my position of privilege as a pedestal from which to look down on the less privileged? Or do I actually believe that I have as much to learn and gain from them as they might have to learn and gain from me? What would it mean for me to reach out across the line separating the haves from the have nots in a way that is uplifting and affirming, not condescending and self-righteous?

Grace is amazing, and compassion is the means through which we can both share it and receive it.

Denzel Washington says, “If you ask me, being successful means helping others. I look around at people who have accomplished all kinds of great and worthwhile things, and I think, 'OK, so what have you done with what you have?' We all know about the awards you've won and riches you've received, but at the end of the day it's not about what you have or even what you've accomplished. It's about what you've done with those accomplishments. It's about who you've lifted up, who you've made better. It's about what you've given back.”

It's about what we do with what we have.

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