Sunday, March 02, 2014

black hole of need, part 2

I deleted the end of the previous post because no matter how hard I tried, it came off sounding like either let them eat cake or I am so awesome that I help people less fortunate than myself. There is no good way to talk about what I was trying to say. I guess it boils down to this: there is unlimited need, but each one of us has limited resources. You have to figure out how to manage this gap, this huge, ocean-sized gap, between the amount that you can realistically do, and the need that is out there. And if you're going to help, you have to be sure that help is wanted, first of all, and that you can give it without condescending. And without doing it just to pad your resumé, so to speak--so you have credentials in the "I help people" conversation.

It occurred to me later, as I thought of all of you--at least those of you that I know read here--that maybe most of you already know this, because it seems pretty damn obvious once you state it like that. You don't do anyone any good if you burn out, or if you're forcing yourself to continue to help when you're feeling bitter and resentful. Also there is a way in which charity can make make people more victimized than they were when you started, i.e., you reinforce the gulf between helper and help-ee by the way you help. Sometimes people need to help themselves.

We've started a conversation in our church recently about how we can be more involved in helping those in our community who need help. And while at first I was entirely enthusiastic about this, the more I hear about it, the more I've thought to myself that sounds exhausting. I'm already doing more than I really want to do--not just at church but in other venues as well--and how am I going to add a bunch more on top of that?

And I guess the answer is the same as it's always been. You just have to figure out what you can do. I do think that "good works" motivated by guilt, ought to, and should are the proverbial clanging gong from 1 Corinthians 13. If you aren't acting out of love, joy at the opportunity to help, gratitude that you are able to help, are you doing more harm than good?

And yet sometimes you do just have to suck it up and help someone because they need help, even when you don't want to, even when your motivation sucks, even when you are all out.

I really need a vacation, and thank the lord one is coming up-- Dean and I are headed south for a four-day weekend next week. I can't remember the last time I needed to get away as badly as I do right now. But my handy-dandy ever-ready guilty conscience helpfully tells me that people who are poor, or mentally ill, or victimized, or whatever, don't get to take a break. They don't get weekends away to recharge so they can come back prepared to fight the good fight again another day. But I do.

Ack. I'm just getting myself tied up in knots. I've been taking pictures of the chickens tiptoeing around in the snow that I will post before I go so this mangled mess of a post won't be on top. :-) Hope the weather is better where you are-- we've had either a blizzard or a winter storm going for the past five days running now.


  1. Well, you know even JC himself said "the poor you will always have with you," recognizing that the needs are endless.

    My thoughts are that we are all better when we do something for others, whatever that something is. But you have to meet your needs first or you can't really meet anyone else's. And just because you have more or can do more than someone else, doesn't mean you shouldn't go on vacation if you want. It's not taking anything away from someone for you to do that. And it's giving you something. Plus, if you want to get really technical, it's helping the local economy of where you are going! In general, figure out what your skills are, where your comfort level is, and find where that intersects with the needs out there.

    Individual people, like the one in your previous post, can definitely suck the life out of you. And then you have to step back.

    AND, remember what my wise grandmother said, "guilt is an unnecessary emotion, it does no one any good, including you."

    1. I know, I really do know this, I'm just feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. I think a few days away is just what I need.

    2. You know, I just realized that a big reason why I'm feeling so weighed down with guilt and not-good-enough-ness is because I just finished reading a book, Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, that was about this exact subject. While I was reading it, I got very fired up about getting more involved. But a few days out, I'm realizing that instead of leaving me energized and excited about the possibilities, she just left me feeling guilty and overwhelmed because I don't do enough. I was going to recommend it in a future Reading Report, but I think now that I've thought about it a bit more, I'd recommend avoiding it. (I'm putting this in the comments because I don't want it showing up in any google searches about that book!)