Saturday, July 17, 2010

Reflections on Community & Empathy

This year the Village Art Project meets at Lot 92 right in the middle of the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. This year I feel much more a part of the community. Being in the center of the neighborhood has contributed greatly to that. I feel like we have made our home amongst a wonderful and welcoming group of people. I feel like a neighbor and a friend and I feel like those around are my neighbors and my friends - our neighbors and our friends.

I was walking to my car this past Monday as the Village Art meeting for the night was winding down. I was on my way home to relieve the saint who was tending to my two small children while my husband and I were gone for the evening. I peered down the road as I was walking and saw someone I have talked to several times before. It appeared as though they moved into a new trailer so I asked if indeed they had, thus beginning a nearly 30 minute conversation. We were talking for only a few minutes before I realized what was going on in their life. They were transparent with me, not trying for a moment to hide their struggles like so many of us do day to day with those we consider closest to us. You see this neighbor has recently become unemployed and is dealing with grief over the loss of a co-worker and friend who passed away just this past week. To top that off they are expecting family who are travelling many miles to visit them and the hot water heater in their new home just bit the dust. I listened carefully as my friend tried to hold back the tears. Sadly, listening does not come easy to me. I am one who wants to jump in and help. Perhaps even to the point of subconsciously desiring to exploit such an opportunity for my own glory. But the Holy Spirit helped me this night. He helped me listen, calmly, carefully. I was focused on their words, tone, and expression. I felt their hurt and my eyes began to water. Even now as I sit here and type the tears are welling up. For a moment something in my heart felt what their heart was feeling. Because this person was open with me, I felt comfortable to share my recent sufferings with them - not being self-conscious about whether or not theirs were more important or more severe than mine (yet careful as to not make the conversation about me) - as if theirs being "more severe" made mine invalid. I was able to empathize and briefly open up about a few of my struggles as of late: my car dying, our refrigerator "biting the dust", and my grandmother passing away all within a couple of weeks. I was free to be a friend rather than thinking I needed to be a rescuer. Suffering is not easy to accept. In our world we are constantly trying to prevent and fix suffering because it is uncomfortable, thus my inclincation towards being a "rescuer". But Jesus entered into suffering before He removed it. Yes, He did remove suffering (and I believe there is a place for that for me as God allows and enables me) but I must remember that He is the Rescuer and I am not. I can however, enter in to a friend's suffering and offer them the hope of the One who one day will remove all suffering. I am grateful that I was free to be a neighbor that night and with genuine concern ask if there was anything I could do to help. It turns out there is something I can do to help. With that I am experiencing the blessing of being a giver rather than a receiver in this moment, even though at the same time I am receiving so much more by being privileged enough to give. I believe with all my heart that if I was in need this person would also ask me if there was anything they could do to help. I only hope I would be humble enough to say yes and accept their gift, so that they in turn would be blessed to be the giver and me thankful to be the receiver. God is at work in my heart. God is giving me more than I could ever have imagined as I get to know some of the beautiful people at the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. Barriers in my heart are coming down, walls are falling. My presuppositions, assumptions and stereotypes are slowly being replaced with mutual respect, friendship and love as I get to know our neighbors.

In closing, I am learning that a relationship without empathy is not friendship, and where you do not have friendship you do not have community. Where mutuality and respect do not coexist, you do not find community. I fear that in our society, what we call communities is nothing more than individuals who live within close proximity to one another only to exchange brief hellos and head nods as one arrives home and another departs. I feel like there is more I would like to communicate, but hopefully each one will take something of their own from these reflections (and all of our reflections posted) and hopefully be inspired and transformed by the Spirit so as to be more like Jesus. May God help us to take community seriously and live it out in every aspect of our lives, not just with our neighbors at the Mt. Pleasant Mobile Home Village. Thanks for reading.


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