Do we reach out to others because we want to change them or because we love them as they are? What a question. Of course, we want people to improve their lives. Why else would we offer services and provide opportunities? We want them to be different than they are. We want to help them change. Occasionally, when we’re honest, we want to change them ourselves!
What an arrogant and ignorant thought. It’s hard to change ourselves, much less anyone else. But sometimes …sometimes…when we work with someone, that person becomes our personal project. We work to help them plan better, be more responsible, quit doing harmful activities, buck up, become educated, get a job. And we do all these things with the best of intentions. We truly want to help. We want others to enjoy some of the rewards we claim because we know how to plan, be responsible, buck up, and the rest. Yeah, right. Goodness knows, I’ve spent much of my adult life providing life changing opportunities to others through my work at United Ministries. And now I’m helping people understand more about people who live in poverty through Our Eyes Were Opened, Inc.
All these thoughts stirred up in me when I read Simone Weil’s words from Waiting for God. She said, “I have the essential need, and I think I can say the vocation, to move among men [sic] of every class and complexion, mixing with them and sharing their life and outlook, so far that is to say as conscience allows, merging into the crowd and disappearing among them, so that they show themselves as they are, putting off all disguises with me. It is because I long to know them so as to love them just as they are. For if I do not love them as they are, it will not be they whom I love, and my love will be unreal.” (Emphasis mine.)
When we start with genuine love with no agenda beyond that, who knows what may happen? Hopefully, all of us find the joy of a mutual relationship where we each care for the other.
People who are called to move into low income neighborhoods, not because they have to but because they want to, do so because they choose to become intentional neighbors. They move in order to help build community. They move into the area to love their neighbors just as they are. Then there’s the possibility of new life for all. Love is amazing like that!