Recently Dan Crain had the privilege of speaking at Desire Street’s “Thriving Leaders Series” http://www.desirestreet.org/partners/thriving-leaders-series/ on a topic called the “Underbelly of Service: Why the false self plagues so many ministries.”
Watch the presentation here: https://vimeo.com/219781733
This is a blog series based on the content he presented at this workshop. We hope you find it beneficial as you learn to serve those on the margins well! You can reach Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook at Dan Crain – Facebook.
Working on my side of the bridge
I was fresh out of seminary with a Masters of Intercultural Ministries degree. I had studied poverty and race. I had sat under leaders of color, read scholarly books and had lots of knowledge. I was in many ways the white guy with a master’s degree that thought he knew it all and I was going to solve and fix everyone’s issues, particularly the poor.
Then I took Dignity Serves and read this at the end of the training;
“Most people who go through the Dignity Serves curriculum struggle with codependence in some measure. One way to describe codependence is the false belief that happiness in your life depends on certain changes in someone else’s life. This belief may persist in spite of consistent evidence to the contrary and heroic yet fruitless efforts to make the change you feel is so necessary.
If you find yourself trapped in the role of caring for others or with a profound need to control situations and outcomes, you may be suffering from codependence. You may also tend to blame others for how you feel or are waiting for someone else to save you. Codependence has many faces, but at its core it is a futile attempt to extract love from other people. And it is exhausting. What is often missing is the core belief you are already deserving of love yourself and that you already possess the love of God. (Dignity Serves, v. 5; Phil Hissom)
Ouch. What does one do with that? It was like a punch in the gut. I then went back to school in my own soul and began the daily struggle of repenting of the underbelly that lives in my false self that can be extremely co-dependent.
This is why I think Jesus sums up the entire law by saying, “Love God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.” I think that the “as yourself” part is what was as the church loses focus of. The goal of what I am calling the “Emotionally Healthy Reconciler” is to learn what Jesus meant by “as yourself”.
We cannot truly love others well until we learn what it means for Christ’s love to be made true in our own inner world. Many in the work of reconciliation are guilty of loving out of obligation, guilt or codependency. This is to love out of deficit and this is not what Christ has called us to. I know I am guilty of this.
Recently I was talking with a good friend, Demetrius that does ministry in the inner-city of Orlando and we were catching up on the things Christ is doing in our hearts and the projects we are giving life to. I told him I was working on a piece for REMERGE on the importance of emotional health in the work of reconciliation. I asked Demetrius for his thoughts and he said that in the work of reconciliation we are called to be bridge builders and if we don’t do work on our side of the bridge, the bridge that we extend will be tainted with selfish desires, wants and needs. If we don’t work on our side of the bridge we will be serving out of deficiency rather than allowing “streams of living water” to come from our soul as Jesus puts it.
I think that perfectly describes the work of “Emotionally Healthy Reconciler”. We must allow Christ to work on our side of the bridge before we extend any sort of love and grace towards the other. Demetrius went on to say; “Reconciliation is about trust building. You have to build bridges from both sides. In order to build trust, you have to do your own soul work first, wrestling with the question, why am I doing this?”
As Martin Luther King Jr. states in Strength to Love; “Only through an inner spiritual transformation do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit.” (27, Strength to Love; King)
Howard Thurman who mentored Martin Luther King Jr says in, “Jesus and the Disinherited”; “this richly endowed, seminal work can be more accurately and helpfully describes as a profound quest for a liberating spirituality, a way of exploring and experiencing those crucial life points where personal and societal transformation are creatively joined. He called this the ‘religion of Jesus’.”
The point I think King and Thurman are making is that the work of reconciliation needs to happen in our hearts first in order for it to be worked out towards societal transformation. These men who lived during the Jim Crow, Civil Rights era and segregation speak truth and I believe we need to heed their words. We must be reconciled internally through Christ and let this reconciliation work outwards.
So what do we with this now?
1) We rest in the fact that this is Christ’s work of reconciliation and not ours. He has made a commitment to redeem and restore all things. We wrestle with the fact that our doing comes out of being with Christ.
2) We name what is broken and divided in our own lives. We visit our family of origin and be honest about how the past is playing out in the present.
3) We sit with the vulnerable on a regular basis and ask for help from them, being attentive to how the Spirit is speaking to us through them.
4) We take regular moments of silence and Sabbath through the day, month and year.
5) We read authors like Howard Thurman, Pete Scazzero, Henri Nouwen, Brene Brown and take the inward journey.