It’s not a what, it’s a how. How are we helping others in everything we do? Am I showing others respect and compassion? It’s tough! In any given moment, I think too much about myself and not enough about others. I spend too much time judging and not enough time trying to understand.
I heard a story recently of a very young teenage girl, a sex trafficking victim, who was brought into a shelter for treatment. She was HIV positive, and had a number of other STDs. The staff was nervous about treating her wounds and infecting themselves (as I would be too). One of the leaders charged forward, put on gloves and a mask, and explained, “We are going to treat this girl with the dignity and respect she deserves. After all, think of all she’s been through.” This girl’s story was heart-wrenching and had me sobbing. What a hero this woman had been! Through her courage, respect, and compassion, she had given that girl an understanding that her life was not over, people did care about her, and wanted to help her with whatever she needed. Who knows, that may be a turning point in that young girl’s life.
Another shining example of courage to treat others with the respect and compassion they deserve came this weekend while I was listening to the radio early Sunday morning on a drive to Northeast Iowa with my husband. They showcased Father James Martin speaking about his new book, “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity.” (Great timing with the conclusion of Pride Week!)
Fr. Martin made several interesting points about how the Church (and frankly, the world) has marginalized the LGBT community, but pointed out that we are all missing one big point…that being homosexual is NOT a sin. Sin is found in the act, not in the person or in just being. He pointed out several other sins that occur much more frequently, but we choose to look past like: divorce, people who don’t help the poor, people who don’t forgive, those who live together or have sex before marriage, etc. These examples are sinful acts according to the Bible…and I admit, I would be included in that group.
What Fr. Martin said, and I agree with, is NOT that we should be marginalizing, judging, or treating any of these people differently. Quite the opposite. We are all sinners, and God tells us that we are not to be the judge of others. As Christians, and just good humans, it’s our responsibility to meet people where they are and offer help. I loved Fr. Martin’s words of respect, compassion, and sensitivity. This doesn’t mean we have to agree with choices that are made, but we do need to see people for people, not just their actions or circumstances. How can we start living more like that?
Maybe we can go where the suffering is. We spend our lives trying to avoid discomfort, which puts people in distress into dark corners and is how they get lost in the system. In witnessing suffering, my own experience has been that I can see people for who they really are, beyond their actions and circumstances…but the real human inside. There is good in there somewhere, sometimes hidden deep down or behind a mask of anger and ugliness, but it is there. Life, circumstances, and tragedy get in the way. People get “Tunnel Vision” (check out this podcast and learn why we keep digging when we’re stuck in a hole). We can become fixated on a situation or part of our life to the point we can’t see the bigger picture.
I remember 2 years into dating my husband, I became so fixated on where our relationship was going and that we should be moving toward marriage that I couldn’t just enjoy our time together anymore. I acted differently, I made different decisions, I was obsessed with talking to him about it. The scary fact that he may not want the same made me desperate to hang on…which ultimately pushed him away…for a while 🙂
Scarcity can change us. If we don’t have enough food, all we think about is food. If we don’t have enough money, all we think about is money. If we are lonely, all we think about is connection. Then when we get it, we often make short-term choices (eat all the food, spend all the money, come on too strong and too fast), and we are back where we started. I have been there, and am vulnerable of being back there. We all could be, and likely will be at some point. We need others to help us back out of the scarcity mindset to see the bigger picture.
So, when we aren’t experiencing scarcity, it is our responsibility to help others who are. I feel solid now, so I look for opportunities to help others who aren’t. Because I should, and a little selfishly, because I know I will need them someday to return the favor.