How far to go?


So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. A great LONG while. Life has happened in the interim, with struggles, joys, and the every day humdrum. There’s no rhyme or reason for my lack of blog presence, other than to say I was taking my own advice and spending time living in the world, rather than commenting about it.

Lately I have been examining my understanding of God’s expectations for me. How am I called to serve? Where should I serve? Whom should I serve? I am still a chaplain, working tirelessly for both a hospice organization and a hospital. Since my previous post, I have lost many patients, some of whom I grew to know well, others whom I spent only mere hours with. I enjoy my work, and I know I am where I belong.

Yet, an unfortunate thing has happened over the past months. In my day to day working with those who are dying and their families, I somehow lost myself. My prayer life has become non-existent. My quiet time with God has given way to watching a prime-time drama as I settle in at home after work. I have failed to acknowledge how God has been involved in my life and been with me. This deeply saddens me.

I had a conversation with a church leader last week, and I revealed how I feel I am drifting. Drifting through work, drifting through church, drifting through life. I do not feel depressed, on the contrary, I am more anxious now than I have been for quite some time. While work and family are good, there seems to be something missing. I am not being fed spiritually. I admire those of my colleagues who talk about the scripture and their ministry with passion and exhuberance. They come to their daily devotional time with eagerness and energy. Me? I rarely come to my devotional time, because it seems like too much energy to expend. I find myself forgoing prayer, because I spend countless amounts of time in my job praying with and for the patients and families I serve. Praying for myself seems like a lot of extra work.

Yet, I can recall times in my life when I put prayer and devotions at the forefront, and I can remember how joyful I felt and how I noticed how much fuller my life was. What has happened to that person I was? Am I merely a product of the day to day doldrums of going through life? Has all the political chaos in this country subconsciously impacted me to where I feel there is not going to be a good ending to it all? How did I lose my zeal for the Lord and all God wants for me?

I know, I know, so many questions, but no answers in sight. And yet, I still am searching. I search for the answers, or, at least a glimmer of an answer. I long for God to speak to me and yet I know it is not about His speaking, but about me listening to what He is already saying.

Once of the issues I consistently face, occurs almost daily for me. I am driving from one patient to the next, and invariably, I am stopped at a corner with an individual holding a sign, indicating they are hungry, homeless, jobless, etc. I see these people, and I immediately want to reach into my wallet, pull out some money, and hand it over. It would be so easy, right?

But it really isn’t. My personal finances notwithstanding, I could repeat this action over and over again on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times per day. Would it help said individuals, or would I be making the problem worse? I have a very high standard for social justice, and I hate to see anyone get taken advantage of. But at the same time, I also have a strong belief that one should work as hard as possible to be the best possible person they can be. I do not know the life circumstances of any one of those individuals standing on the corner, yet somehow I feel that the mere action of asking for handouts is somehow shirking the responsibility of working hard to attain what one needs to survive.

And before you get all judgy, I know that this conflicts with my Christian beliefs of providing for my neighbor and extending kindness and generosity to those in need. Sometimes all I can think is, If I give this person money today, will I see them out here tomorrow, asking for more? And then again the next day, and the next? What is my money going for, if not to help this person attain a better life? But the next thought after that is, But it’s not up to me to decide for that person what to do. I just need to do what I know is the right thing, and the Christ-like thing.  But still, I find myself more and more declining to extend the offering of money to those on the corner. In fact, as I look at these inividuals through the windshield of my car, I am also looking through the chain around the rearview mirror from which a cross hangs. When I am choosing to not offer help, I am doing so while staring at the cross my Lord died on, to save all of us from our sins. This knowledge eats me up inside.

There is not one answer to this dilemma, there are many facets that can and should be explored. I do not know if I will ever come to an understanding of what I should do when faced with the choice to help or not. As I mentioned, I could do this multiple times a day, every day of my life. Would I be helping the person, or hurting them more? Would it be better if I stopped at each one and offered to take them to look for work? Shoul I provide food instead of money? In doing that, isn’t that me still offering judgment on what they may or may not do with any money received, and I am just pacifying my own expectations that I fulfilled God’s command to love my neighbor – but just on my own terms?

I do not think we have a truly clear understanding of what Jesus meant when He instructed us to give away all we have and follow him. In our world today, giving away all we have may mean we end up in the same situation as those we would be attempting to help. Does it truly help if I give up all my money, posessions, 401k, house, etc. and give it to the poor, just so I can be poor as well? The kindness of strangers, such as when Jesus was travelling from place to place, seems to not exist anymore, because we are all wary of the motives of those we encounter. We take extra effort to go out of our way to avoid certain neighborhoods, or individuals of certain races or ethnic backgrounds. We see someone “shady” walking toward us in a parking lot and we immediately change direction. What does that say about who we are as a people – and moreover, as a people of God? How can we see the good in others when we must first look through the lens of all the deception, prejudice, and fear that inhabits our daily lives? How far do we need to go to see God in our world – or, is He right in front of us and we are just too afraid to open our eyes to see him?

God’s peace be with all of you, today and in the days ahead.