FROM THE ARCHIVES:
When it comes to serving Jesus in the trenches, there’s a huge difference between “to,” “for” and “with.”
Many people I know are tired of just talking about theology or participating in yet another Bible Study that increases knowledge but not practice. They are hopping off the “upwardly mobile” path that’s focused on bigger, better, and more successful and choosing instead the slow, scary path of descent–into the trenches, the margins of life and faith … the places where Jesus seemed to go.
But where do we start? What does it mean to live out the wild ways of Jesus in practice, not theory? To me, it means cultivating a life of extending love, mercy and compassion, welcoming pain, honoring doubt, diffusing power, practicing equality, pursuing justice, expressing creativity, and celebrating freedom. These eight core practices are explored deeply throughout Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Ways of Jesus.
But first, before diving in, we need to continually consider the importance of three prepositions that matter when it comes to a downwardly mobile life–the difference between “to”, “for” and “with.”
I was first exposed to this idea through my friends at the Center for Transforming Mission (www.ctmnet.org). They are dedicated to equipping grassroots leaders who are journeying with people in hard places around the world. Their work is built upon the premise that authentic transformational relationships cannot be built upon power or inequality. Even though many of us would nod and say “of course!” the reality is that many of the missional models we’ve been taught perpetuate a divide between “us” and “them” that is sometimes conscious, sometimes unconscious.
Considering these three prepositions has really shaken up so much of what I believe about living in the trenches with people.
- The Preposition “To” is Paternal and Creates Oppression
In most Christian and typical mission-oriented circles, the most prevalent preposition has become the word “to.” The style of the preposition “to” is paternal. This idea is built on principles like:
“I have something I need to give to you.”
“I have wisdom I need to impart to you.”
“Here’s the advice, biblical truth or kernel of life-changing knowledge I have to give to you.”
The problem with the preposition “to” is that it begins with an “I’m up and you’re down” perspective of power that is patronizing and disempowering. Someone has more resources, knowledge and put-togetherness than the other. This posture often ends up making the one on the receiving end feel like a project or even a loser.
- The Preposition “For” is Maternal and Creates Codependence
The preposition “for” is another easy reflex for most of us. The style of the preposition “for” is maternal. It’s when we want to do things for a hurting person.
“Let me makes these calls for you.”
“I don’t want you to hurt, so let me fix this part for you.”
“Your anxiety is giving me anxiety, so let me do what I can to take care of this anxiety for you.”
This is my reflex and the one I continually have to guard against in the work I do. The problem with this kind of approach to others is that it creates codependence. Helpers get sucked into helping and end in a one-up role where we need to take care of the person, make things happen for them, or remain in a position where we are always “serving.” It stays on those terms and remains a one-way relationship.
- The Preposition “With” is Incarnational and Creates Transformation
The preposition “with” changes everything. It means:
“I am with you in this moment, will stand alongside you, and am not walking ahead of you but alongside you.”
“I am in the same boat; I struggle, too, but my struggle may just look different.”
“I want to share life with you, not just take care of you or tell you what to do.”
“You have some things I need to learn from you, too. Let’s learn from each other.”
“With” removes imbalanced power from the relationship. It recognizes the fundamental dignity of the person and says, “I am here with you.” It begins with listening for the deeper story that informs the suffering. It waits patiently for the person to ask for help, if needed, because sometimes people aren’t ready for help–sometimes people just need people to sit “with” as they work it out on their own.
There is no question—”with” is scarier. It means I let others know me instead of hiding behind doing good works at a protective distance. I make myself vulnerable and let others into my life, experience and heart, instead of just taking care of them to feel like I’m “helping.” Within the professional, clinical culture, as it is customarily taught, these kinds of “with” relationships may look like bad boundaries.
I understand how easy it is to stick with “to” and “for” modes of relationship. They protect us because they keep us in a place of power. They keep the focus off of us and on the other person. In the end, we don’t need “them;” they just need “us.” Even though that’s easier, I believe that “with each other” relationships create true transformation and are core to a life of downward mobility where there is no divide between “us and them.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts:
- What do you think about the difference between “to, for, and with” relationships?
- Which one is easiest for you to default toward?
Kathy Escobar co-pastors The Refuge, an eclectic faith community in North Denver dedicated to those on the margins of life and faith. She blogs regularly about life and faith at www.kathyescobar.com and just released a new book called, Down We Go–Living out the Wild Ways of Jesus in Action. She lives in Arvada, Colorado with her husband, Jose, and five kids.
Image credit: Chairs, by Peter Hellebrand