Yesterday I sat with a man who has had more than his share of worries. He is estranged from his partner and children, he is out of work, he has no money, the EI he receives all goes to child support (which he is supportive of), was recently in hospital with a bad back and he lives with chronic mental illness. There are many ways one can respond to such information. Some would sit in judgement and question some of the recent life decisions this man has made. That kind of approach is designed to make us feel better, not him. After all if we want to relieve ourselves of the anxiety that this kind of random difficulty could come to us we can rationalize it away with “I wouldn’t make those kind of decisions.”
Or we can approach this man with a sense of being a rescuer, ask him what he wants and go get it. If he wants money, here it is, if we needs a place to live, I will arrange and pay for that. If he needs transport, I will drive him. And so it goes. But again, who does this help? In the end is this kind of utter and total reliance on me helping this man or is it feeding a need deep inside me to feel necessary? Dependency is a mighty slippery slope and once you’ve started down that road the nature of your relationship with him will forever be changed.
So where do we begin? Jean Vanier would say all of us are loved by God and have eternal value. He would go further, he would say that we all have beauty and are called to live with our brokenness with the recognition that in our pain and our joy we find the substance of community. There is an organic sense in communities that Vanier has helped form of real celebration of each other’s gifts and beauty and an awareness that all of us are broken. In Vanier’s theology this celebration and mutual care make us human and make our communities places of deep connection.
I cannot fix every problem, nor do I have the resources or the stamina to meet every challenge of every person I meet. But I also walk in a broken world with broken people, one of whom is me. I know that two or three decisions in my life that could have gone the other way would have landed me exactly where this man is today. And in most cases the decisions I made that prevented the same result as this man were not really made by me, they were connections and interventions by people who loved me. That spirit of humility really prevents the kind of judgement that would be easy to make.
But I also know that I can do something in each encounter to “unbind and set free” as our Gospel text this week makes reference to. I am not going to heal this pain with a rescuer approach or a judgemental approach but I am going to be an agent of unbinding and setting free as I provide space for this man to tell his story, share his pain, give him information that he might utilize to “walk free” and give him a taste of a relationship that is heathy and nurturing. And in return he is giving me a sense of resiliency as he leaves our table to take a bus and go for a job interview, that he is putting one foot in front of the other, not knowing where he is going specifically but knowing in that trust he is doing the right thing. That “right thing” is what makes the difference right now. But hopefully there is a community and a deeper connection in this man’s future.
That is my prayer. That is my offering. And for the gift he gave me I am thankful.