Our small group spent the evening helping at the local homeless shelter and afterwards engaged in a good discussion about our experience. The question was asked, “What fears/hesitations/barriers did you have about serving at the shelter?” I think our fear of serving is what often holds us back. I would love to share some of our thoughts below:
1) What if I can’t answer their questions?
I think this is a common fear no matter whom you are serving. Whether they’re poor or rich, vulnerable or powerful, thinking you have to have answers to their every question remains a huge fear and barrier to serving. However, people don’t expect you to be perfect. If you don’t have an answer, tell them that. Tell them you would love to think about it and get back to them.
2) What am I supposed to talk about?
How can a middle class person (who has every need met) relate to a poor person (whose looking for his next meal)? How can I as a relatively young girl relate to a women in her 60’s? How can a suburban boy relate to a inner city guy? Finding something in common can be difficult, and awkward silence is to be expected. In the end, these are real people, with fascinating stories, and interesting experiences. You will never know what they have to share until you ask.
3) What if I do have a great conversation? How am I supposed to follow up?
Many times the fear of not knowing what will come of a situation will limit you from even embarking on the situation to begin with. Knowing how to follow up with someone who has just shared a portion of his or her life with you is really tough. I don’t believe there are any simple answers to this. Remember, poor people have many needs, but often what they need most is a true friend. How you become a true friend to them is different in every case, but don’t allow your fear of the unknown to squash the potential to see God at work in you and in them.
4) What do I have to offer? How can I really help these people?
It is so easy to feel inadequate and ill equipped. Most of us aren’t Bible experts or psychologists with applicable solutions to life’s challenges. So how do you help? Sitting and listening to others share seems so futile. However, listening to their story might actually be the best way to show them that you care.
Your thoughts? I am sure there are many that we have missed. What fears do you have when seeking to serve others? Please feel free to leave comments or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your thoughts or experiences!Image courtesy of mahalie / Flickr.com