Monday, July 30, 2007

Serving Friends & Strangers

On separate occasions with friends recently there was mention of the sad irony that sometimes the people we think will "be there" for us are nowhere to be found when we need them. Surprisingly, it's sometimes people who are not the closest to us--even strangers--who come through for us, instead. It prompts me to wonder why this is. Could it be that we would insulate ourselves and shrink wrap within cliques and clans if our needs were always so neatly and predictably met by a chosen few? Maybe God mixes it up a bit so we never lose sight of Who is really behind all of our eleventh hour rescues...

These talks prompted me to ask of myself, am I a true friend to friends in need? And am I also one who surprises strangers? I think we're called as Christiains to be both... as God leads.

I know in my life there are times I've let others down. Sometimes this is a function of carelessness or selfishness on my part. Other times it's a function of unreasonable expectations on the part of someone else. Maybe I wasn't meant to charge up the hill that time. But if I was... and I didn't... that becomes a burden for my conscience... and I am accountable to God for these faliures.

There are also times I've tried to be everything to everybody. Good intentions aside, this is the recipe for burnout if not disaster. There's one and only one entity that has the power to meet every single need... and that's God.

So, how do we decide, given our resources and time and talents, who to help? I believe that God sometimes gives us very clear direction. He convicts us, sometimes powerfully,when we need to step up to the plate. And He restrains us when we shouldn't. He also puts upon us, whenever we assume a role of leadership, an accountability for the groups we guide, both within and outside the home.

I've been sensitive lately to how often I pray for God to intervene in someone's life... in hopes that someone else will provide... when, hey, it could be me. When someone says "Please pray for me!" it could be that I have a role to both pray and deliver! Sometimes what we deliver would be considered sacrificial. Other times it's as easy as penning a quick e-mail networking someone who has lost a job with someone who could help, or doing a "google" search to help someone learn more about a doctor, or picking up the telephone to make a friend aware of another friend's new business. Then, again, sometimes our role is exclusively to pray, and we must never lose sight of how potent and pivotal prayer is in and of itself. As we think of deliverables, it is an essential "tangible."

If we determine that we are meant to help someone, how do we know what to do? We can't always count on those in need to be clear about what is is that they need. I've found that sometimes people can be so overwhelmed that they can't articulate or even understand what help they could use. This is the point at which we must become detectives. Having someone sleuth out what would be helpful then help provide it can be like manna from heaven.

I'm reading The Biography of Anne Frank (not the diary, but someone's researched account of events surrounding her life and death). I'm struck at a gut level... haunted, really... with the contrast between goodness and evil.

Though the Holocaust stories are familiar, every time I encounter them it's as if I'm hearing about them for the first time. The visage of unrestrained evil nearly takes my breath away. In reading this book, however, I've been equally taken by acts of kindness on the part of protectors and fellow prisoners who also inhabited this unthinkably horrendous moment in time. People who risked their lives to shield persecuted Jews... and those who were also hungry and thirsty and crushed who committed to share what wretched little they had. All in all, I'm prompted to wonder if I'm doing enough today to help those in need. I'm challenged to pray a little differently, perhaps. Less of "Dear God... please find a way to help them!" And more of, "Am I meant to do something here?"

Question: Are you a true friend to friends in need? Are you also one who surprises others with your no-strings-attached love and generosity?

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