Thursday, September 8, 2016

releasing relentless dogoodery, and so forth

I just read a beautiful message on Facebook--you can maybe see it here. Basically, in the story, a woman goes up to the writer and asks: what do you say when someone is having a hard time and you think you can help?

From the post, formatting mine for easier reading, and emphasis mine:

She said, "What would you say to someone who is in a hospital bed having a dark night of the soul and isn't open to hearing about mind-body interventions?" 
I said, "That is not the time to barge in and say to someone 'Your illness has a gift in it. Are you ready to unpack why your illness might be here and what it might be saying to you? Are you willing to look at how your life might be out of alignment with your truth and how that might be exacerbating your symptoms?' Such an intervention would be cruel and inappropriate. That would not be healing. When you're in acute crisis, you need comfort. You need someone to hold space for your pain and your fear. Unless someone is ready and reaching out, someone's darkest night is not the time for some New Age intervention. If you're feeling like you need to wake them up and help them see the gift in their illness, you're better off looking into yourself to examine why you can't be comfortable letting them have their experience and just showing up with empathy and holding space for their suffering."

It bears repeating: if you are feeling like you need to wake others up and help them see the gifts in their trials, you're better off looking within to see why you are not comfortable with them having their experience.

I say this as someone totally guilty of this. Having lots of tools for clearing things physical, emotional, what have you, it can be really difficult to see people--loved ones, friends, even people I have no idea who they are--going through a hard time. I find myself at times practically tripping over myself to offer up a solution. But that attitude, well-intentioned though it may be, is perhaps more indicative of personal failure rather than altruism. Why can't I be comfortable letting people experience their own experiences?

In recent months I've become way more okay with it. My scripture study has reminded me that Jesus waited to be asked for help. He held space for suffering. He wept when it was time to weep. He didn't jump in with solutions right away.

That's just not how God works. He lets us suffer even though it must tear Him apart to do so. He waits for us to exhaust our solutions and finally remember to ask for him. And through it all, He is right there with us.

We don't need to engage in relentless dogoodery, which is how I would characterize my life for a large chunk of my life. Service is good and we should serve others. But sometimes serving others is just being there for them, without judgment, without solutions they aren't interested in. Sometimes service is just being willing to be there in love.

We don't need to worry about others waking up. As I write this, I reflect: but what about sharing the Gospel? Isn't it practically our JOB to wake people up? Help them care about the Gospel? What about missionary work? What?

And immediately, the answer: this is how to do missionary work. Leave the missionary work on the side. If we develop in ourselves our relationship with God and learn how to accept others where they are at, hold space for them in empathy, reach out to them and connect with them and love them through their own suffering, without questions and without judgement, they will naturally want to know more.

The original Facebook post I found addresses this as well, in its way--while holding space, she recommends mentioning to the sufferer, "I have a thought about something that might help. But I don't want to mention it unless you want to hear about it." The answer or potential for an answer is out there, but it's not shoved in anyone's face. The approach has a deep respect for the choices of others. It is agency-driven instead of guilt-driven or pride-driven. It is not about you and what makes you comfortable. It is about the other.

In the end, this is about changing ourselves. What does it take for each of us to become a person who is comfortable allowing others to experience their experiences? What does it take for each of us to become a person who naturally reaches out to others to be a "safe space" for them--without judgment, without ulterior motives of getting them to change? For every person, it will require overcoming different things.

It is safe to allow others to have their own experiences. It is safe to allow others to have the experiences they are ready for.

Our job is not to fix. It is not to pop up in unwelcome ways with solutions people were not asking for. Our job is to follow the Spirit, reach out to others with love, and inform gently.