Thursday, April 22, 2010

My Ego Wants to Fix You

Someone shared this passage from a book with me today, and I caught a glimmer of a truth I used to know, and I longed for it again.

It spoke to me because I’ve been thinking about how often I prefer to provide answers rather than to listen. I have the same tendency whether in friendship, counseling, discipleship or evangelism. And I started to wonder if maybe many of us do this as a way of coping with feelings of inadequacy—our way to prove our worth, to feel strong and to distance ourselves from others’ struggles. But as long as we’re focused on being enough we can’t enter the holy place of struggle with others. It leads me back to the need for surrender and rest. Only in the place of rest I can truly enter into life with another. It’s a lesson I’m learning and relearning.

Here’s the passage:

In the Service of Life
Recently, the question, how can I help, has become meaningful to many people.
But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not, how can I help, but is, how can I serve.
Serving is different from helping.
Helping is based on inequality; it is not a relationship between equals.
When you help you use your own strength to help those of lesser strength.
People feel this inequality.
When we help we may inadvertently take away from people more than we could ever give them; we may diminish their self-esteem, their sense of worth, integrity and wholeness.
When I help I am very aware of my own strength.
But we don’t serve with our strength.
We draw from all of our experiences. Our limitations serve, our wounds serve, even our darkness can serve.
Service is a relationship between equals.
When I help I have a feeling of satisfaction.
When I serve I have a feeling of gratitude.
Service is also different from fixing.
When I fix I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of life in them.
When I serve I see and trust that wholeness.
There is a distance between ourselves and whatever or whomever we are fixing.
Fixing is a form of judgment.
All judgment creates distance, a disconnection, an experience of difference.
In fixing there is an inequality of expertise that can easily become a moral distance.
We cannot serve at a distance.
We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected, that which we are willing to touch.
This is Mother Theresa’s basic message.
We serve life not because it is broken, but because it is holy.
If helping is an experience of strength, fixing is an experience of mastery and expertise.
Service, on the other hand, is an experience of mystery, surrender, and awe.
We are servers of the wholeness and mystery of life.
Fixing and helping may often be the work of the ego, and service the work of the soul.
They may look similar if you’re watching from the outside, but the inner experience is different.
The outcome is different too.
Over time, fixing and helping are draining, depleting.
Over time we burn out.
Service is renewing.
Service rests on the basic premise that the nature of life is sacred, that life is a holy mystery which has an unknown purpose.
When we serve, we know that we belong to life and to that purpose.
Lastly, fixing and helping are the basis of curing, but not of healing.
Only service heals.
-Edited and abridged from original written by Rachel Naomi Remen

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moral Checklists and Christ-less Christianity

You ever have those weeks when your worth and value as a human takes a serious blow? When your personhood is repeatedly called into question based on many legitimate grounds? I just had that week.

It’s like I’ve been keeping score to make sure I still have some hope of making it here among the human race. At times, it is doubtful. I’m failing my Statistics class, I procrastinated too long on getting some things turned in for my grad school program, and I suck at softball. Based on these criteria, some have let me know that I might get voted off the island very soon. On the other hand, I filed my taxes before the deadline, my bills are paid, and my room is clean. But then there’s the fact that I’ve been late a lot lately and most of my jeans don’t fit me anymore. Fail.

I think many of us have a running tally like this to determine our success or failure as a human being—or as a Christian. Others keep a tally of us too, and sometimes we use their tally to determine our worth. Maybe it’s been getting to me this week because, like I mentioned in my last blog, I’ve forgotten who I am and what I’m about.

When I forget, I start judging my life based on all these bogus criteria – what have I accomplished? How have I failed? Am I beautiful enough? Am I responsible enough? Am I smart enough? Am I giving of myself on behalf of others enough? I start trying to live the Christian life according to a checklist of moral achievements and admirable qualities. Sadly, that’s what Christianity is for many of us. We’ve gotten good at living the Christian life without Christ.

So I guess part of remembering includes remembering what it really means to be a Christian—to rest in Christ and believe in his radical acceptance—or what’s known as grace. To surrender the checklist in order to receive that grace. To let go of who I’m trying to be so he can show me again who I am. And somehow in that surrender, my memory gets less and less distorted. I remember. And so I’m transformed.

But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away… And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:16, 18