Put a face to that label.
That is the challenge I face today. I know “who” to help, that one is rather easy: the vulnerable. But I sometimes struggle to really know who to help. Let me explain.
The Bible takes no short cuts in challenging Christians to follow in the footsteps of God and love the vulnerable. Take Zechariah 7:9-10 for example:
“This is what the Lord Almighty said: “Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor.”
It’s pretty self-explanatory by reading scripture that a care for the downtrodden, poor, vulnerable, marginalized, etc. is God’s heart and thus should be ours as well. And it is rather clear that this focus is not a choice if we follow Jesus. (1 Jn 3:16-18) In fact, it is the pure form of the religion we follow. (James 1:27)
So what name have you given it?
What specific people has God placed in your path to love? If you are like me, than sometimes you are guilty of attending to the categories and neglecting the individuals. It would be easy for me to write another blog laying out the specific characteristics of the vulnerable and why God’s heart is for them but it is much more difficult to write a blog giving examples of my specific experiences with them.
Do you have actual relationships with the vulnerable or are they still a category you serve?
There is nothing wrong with helping scoop mashed potatoes at a food kitchen or sort baby bottles at a pregnancy care center (I have done both things by the way, and will probably spend time doing both again) but what can we do to go even deeper? What can we do to begin to know the vulnerable? Their name, story, struggles and victories. How can we make them more than a category? How can we turn our time with them into loving, dignity restoring relationships?
Here are four things I am trying to do:
- I am praying. God place more people of vulnerability in my path. Help me to see them and respond with openness and freedom.
- I am trying to be intentional in relationship. When the Lord reveals an opportunity to love a person in vulnerability I must take initiative! This is not easy but relationships take work and sometimes that means going out of my way to talk with them and ask them questions when talking seems awkward and uncomfortable. (I know the lonely widow across the street needs someone to talk to and no conversation with her is ever short of 20 minutes, but I also leave every single time realizing that she is a beautiful person with amazing understandings to share.)
- I am trying to hang out where the vulnerable are. Tonight I will be going to the homeless shelter downtown for the evening. I expect to see Luis and ask him how his job is going. I hope Joe and Danny are there. I enjoy hearing Joe’s stories and thinking through Danny’s great perspectives on life. The poor have faces and names but I’ll never know them if I am not hanging out where they are.
- I am trying to be open in sharing my life. The more I share with them the struggles of living life, the more they freely share with me. Very few people open up with strangers, why would the vulnerable be any different? A true friendship involves levels of realness and openness so I try my best to model that in our friendships.
It’s probably a blog for another day but let me end with this personal realization.
The poor don’t deserve to be loved because they are poor but because they are people. They are people with beautiful expressions and unique perspectives on life. They challenge, stretch and refine me and I see Jesus in my time with them. The vulnerable must be something so much deeper than a category in order to love them as Jesus modeled. The poor need to be humanized and seen as individuals and friends. When they are, Jesus does a work in their hearts as well as ours and the reflection of Jesus loves burns a little bit brighter.
Take a moment to consider the vulnerable you know. How do you know them? What do they know about you? Do you truly know them or are they still just a category.
“Lord, may we have the: eyes to see the vulnerable in our midst, the passion to seek a new relationship with them and the courage to go in friendship where your love has called us.”Image courtesy of Ed Yourdon / Flickr.com