Sunday, February 7, 2010

You Can't Reach All of Them

Sometimes I struggle with the question of how to reach people. How to touch peoples lives. I know there are so many lonely people out there, so many sad people, so many people struggling with their own demons or even just material problems. There are so many victims of the nihilism of our present age, and I know I see them every day.

But...what do you do? How are we to radiate Christ's love to them? You can't just do a cold approach, can you? Even if you did, how would you choose? Would you pick someone who looked sad, or lonely, or pathetic? And yet, that's quite a judgment to make, and they might not be, and plenty of suffering people might put on a strong or pleasant face.

I suppose you could just smile and say hello to strangers and put the ball in their course. But you can't practically speaking do that to everyone walking down the street, you have to pass some people by, you have to make a choice, and that can be paralyzing.

And yet, it's worse to make no choice. You can't reach them all. You can't reach any of them without God's Providence determining it, anyway. It is the specific lives that we touch that ennoble us and give meaning to our own lives. And yet, some people are obviously more effective at touching more lives than others. Some really maximize that potential. We call them Saints. How do they do it? Mysticism, contemplative prayer, that's all one side of the story. Volunteer-work, charity, the apostolate, that's another.

But what do you for all those people that you encounter in the regular course of each day? Coworkers, classmates, cashiers in stores, servers in restaurants, strangers on the bus? Maybe not even strangers, maybe just casual acquaintances. What concrete steps are you supposed to take to deepen your relationship with them, to be a friend, to show them God's love?

I think the first step, of course, is opening yourself to being affected by them, making yourself vulnerable, becoming humble enough to realize that they might humanize and save you at least as much as you will them. But what then? There are plenty of self-help books about becoming more extroverted and confident, of course, but usually for selfish ends, and besides, that isn't really my problem...

How do you share God's love with people in a consistent manner? Concretely? Just going door to door doesn't seem to work (or does it)? Just preaching on a street corner or starting in with "do you know Jesus Christ?" doesn't seem to work (or does it)? At least, I think, those approaches scare as many off as come in.

A lot of people around here who come into the Faith are invited by friends to Mass just casually, or to simple question and answer sessions. Maybe the secret is just to trust that God will find a way for all these people, that they aren't my responsibility, maybe they are someone else's project, someone better suited, someone naturally closer to them. But how do I know? How do I not make that just an excuse not to act? Then again, are there people already close to me whom I'm neglecting? How can I know? Maybe it comes down to a once-in-a-lifetime chance we're given to die for a stranger or demonstrate selflessness? But I think just as much must come from the little things each day, not the big showy heroic moments.

It can be frustrating. We can walk around with this great affection for humanity and benevolence towards everyone we see to channel it? How constantly and with maximum efficiency? Or shouldn't that be a concern? I wish there was a concrete script that could be used to approach people, or a concrete metric that could be used to judge whether it's even my place to do so, and whether I'm doing enough for those already closest to me. I suppose just trying my best to be moral (while also being honest about my faults) might be enough, but sometimes I worry that can become a self-enclosed parameter around a lot of people, who are personally faithful but don't particularly spread the love of God externally.

Sometimes someone will strike up a little conversation with me in line for food or on an elevator or after class...and I feel like I just am trying to end the conversation as quickly and pleasantly as possible and get on with my own life. Granted, sometimes I suspect that person approached me because they are attracted to me, or are trying to get answers for schoolwork, or even are just making awkward small talk because they're naturally mindlessly chatty and can't stand silences. But maybe even those motives can be used for good? I always feel a little regret for not offering more, for seeming disinterested, for simply smiling and nodding and not even bothering to introduce myself or ask more questions, for feigning shyness just to get out of spending energy on that interaction. Should I enthusiastically pursue such interactions instead? I don't want to just try to manipulate people like a politician. And you start doing that and needy people can have the tendency to become clingy or take advantage of your kindness manipulatively...

Grr! There's always a counter-point!! Always an "other hand," always a "then again." That's the problem with being thoughtful, too much thought can paralyze action. But...well, I'm rambling now. I think you get the gist of my problem. Any good advice?? How to show God's love to the people that you meet each day? To show that care that Mr Rogers showed to children? Saying it explicitly is a lot harder with adults, can scare them off. How?! How?!?!?!


Philo Sophia said...

I find your transparency, and your heart regarding these matters refreshing. People generally need to feel validated for their existence. Expressions of concern and encouraging words at the right times can engender the trust in you from the other individual. After a time, and I find that this works for me, question regarding biblical matters, as well as Christianity in general are asked of me, as it is known by way of conversation of my knowledge regarding such matters. Though I consider myself an Agnostic who wants to believe, I set my own doubt aside and share with the other individual what I have learned from Scripture regardint the matter they have inquired about. The result of what is shared with that person is of little consequence to me. What I focus on is sharing what I know, and hope that it has been helpful. If not, I still make myself available for frienship, with no strings attached, and mutual support. Don't know if that helps, but that my take on the matter. - Sophia

Mark of the Vineyard said...

"That's the problem with being thoughtful, too much thought can paralyze action."

That's right out of Notes from the Underground.
Anyway, one of my suspicions has been confirmed: that too much time on the internet makes one prone to want to micro-manage every little aspect of life. As vague as it might sound, I am currently of the opinion that you should "go with the flow, just do whatever comes to you at the moment to bear witness to the Gospel - even if it is just a smile. One of the persons in my life who mosted conveyed to me the message of the Gospel, and who made God's love present to me, was a Coptic Orthodox woman with whom I worked with briefly some time ago. Not that she preached anything, but she was very loving and kind towards me without me having done anything to merit such affection.

A Sinner said...

Yeah, I'm big on "go with the flow," trusting Providence, as long as that doesn't become Quietism. Sometimes I wonder the Spirit giving me such Occasions and Opportunities that I'm neglecting or ignoring??

As for "thought paralyzing action" are entirely correct, but I didn't realize it at the time. I read "Notes from Underground" this past summer...and that particular line must have stayed with me and drifted up from my subconscious. Freaky! But in a good way.

Jonathan said...

I struggle with this as well. Not because I think I am some Saint sent from the future (if only), but because I have that clash of conscience as well. The sinner that is me on the one hand has moments where I can say, "Oh I've been there I can empathize with you.". On the other hand, there is the self righteous jerk in me, that pulls out the "Holier than thou" card whenever I catch myself slipping (ie losing patience, slipping into the sin of pride, slipping into a past sin, etc.). I can't stand when the latter side of me comes out, the side thats sneers at the sinner, because that is what I as a Catholic am supposed to do (ie not associate with THOSE people), but then I'm humbled when I realize I too am a sinner. Hopefully GOD will be merciful when I fail to help a fellow sinner with their cross.

I was thinking about a similar theme yesterday. It isn't entirely related to this, but heck why not just put it out there. Why do we obsess so much over our outward appearance as do the gentiles (recall The Sermon on The Mount)? Why is there this thing called "Sunday Best" ? Frankly I have always found it strange how that seeped into Catholic circles. To me, that particular concept is a rather Protestant ideal. The idea that the garb of an individual somewhat makes them into a commodity of sorts. I mean if I dress really nicely and primp myself like a Peacock, of what value is that before the eyes of GOD ? Sure people will say, "Oh he has got it going on." "He is so well put together.", but what does that matter when I could have the foulest soul before GOD. Are people so afraid to present the state of their spiritual being ? Is that not part of modesty ?

Now that I think about it, this fits in rather well with your post on The Synagogue and The Church. If you take Christ's Sermon on The Mount realize that He is speaking to The Believer (at that point it would have been The Jews, but also a foreshadowing of those who would come to believe) and He contrasts them against The Gentiles (those who seek the vanities of the world).

Oh yeah before I forget, all believers are grafted into The Covenant through Christ's Death and Resurrection, but they are also grafted through The Theotokos. Under halacha (Jewish Law), to be considered a Jew ones mother must be a Jew. In Christ giving us His mother, we come to be Spiritual Jews so to speak. To that add the prayer "Theotokos Save Us !" and the imagery becomes our pleading with The Virgin to not only say YES where Eve said NO, but also to have her adopt us into The Covenant and share in the inheritance of it.