This month, we hosted our first ever Pop-up Lab. It was an opportunity for pastors, church leaders, as well as non-profit and business leaders to gather together. Our theme for the evening was learning how to show hospitality to our neighbors, specifically new neighbors from around the world and those experiencing homelessness. Through some improv activities, a shared meal with conversation, and a group prayer exercise our group explored what being a good neighbor looks like.
During our dinner conversation we shared stories of our attempts to help our neighbors who experience homelessness, and we expressed over and over again our dissatisfaction with those attempts. Our individual efforts seemed so small when held up against the complexities of our neighbors’ lives and the enormity of the systematic problems which provide the context for our attempts to help.
When we meet our neighbor we must confront our own limits, stereotypes, and ultimately our own brokenness. As we sat around the table, I was surprised by how many community leaders and pastors expressed a similar emotion when working with neighbors: guilt. It is too easy to let guilt shape our response and reaction. We can get paralyzed by our guilt or we can learn to acknowledge it and accept our own feelings of brokenness.
It is in these moments when we feel inadequate that we encounter the Enemy at his finest. The Accuser speaks to us and says, “How selfish of you to feel bad. How selfish of you to let your own brokenness get in the way of helping.” We hear this lie, and we keep it to ourselves. Instead of sharing the burden with our brothers and sisters, we try to ignore it and pretend we don’t hurt. We are afraid others will join in with our accuser.
During our evening together, many of our participants shared their own feelings of guilt and brokenness with me. They were allowing me to see a part of themselves that does not have very many places to appear. It was a holy moment.
Holly, EIRO’s executive director, shared a quote with me from Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Strangers At My Door: “You are not here to fix a problem called homelessness. You are here to open yourself to a mystery you do not understand.” This was a timely reminder for me.
Our guilt often comes from the mistaken belief that we are to fix or save our neighbors. This simply is not our job. We cannot be responsible for our neighbor, but we can be responsible to them. We often cannot fix our neighbors’ difficulties or remove them from hard situations, but we can listen to their stories and get to know them. Perhaps the greatest thing we have to offer is opening ourselves up to the mystery of getting to know another human being. When we begin building this relationship with our neighbor we also begin learning the shared gifts we bring each other.