It has come to my attention lately I may be living well, but am I living well? I may seem to have it all together from the outside and even from the inside, but how am I really living? How am I presenting myself to my neighbors? How am I letting strangers and close family and friends know I care for their well being? How am I representing a Christlike presence? How?
Growing up in a rural area left me very sheltered with a mindset of, most people live like I do and most people have a family like ours. I don’t consider this a flaw of where I come from, but a flaw of not going out and experiencing the world. After moving to Tulsa, OK we settled into a home just a few miles from the downtown area. What I see on my drives everyday are some very poor neighbors. I see God’s creatures living here and there, begging on the sidewalk near the roads, asking for just a little cash to grab a bite, and I wonder… How do I show them I care? Occasionally I will hand someone some extra money to do what they will with it, but I can’t hand out money every single day. How can I show the world I care and love them, even though I know nothing about them? I can offer a friendly smile or even a short conversation.
If I am able to do this to a stranger, then what should be expected of me for people I know. One of the most important things I need to do better is to call friends out by their names. If you know someone’s name, even if you don’t know them well, use it! Using a person’s name does so much for their inner being. Talk to the people you know face to face instead of just being on social media. I love social media for many reasons, even though for several other reasons I hate what it has done to the general public and the way we view the world. I have connected with a few great people using Facebook that I never would have had the opportunity to connect with otherwise. It is an amazing tool to connect with people with similar interests and such, but it isn’t mean to replace putting yourself out there in the real world.
When you invite people to a gathering, or to lunch, or to a play date with kids in the park, you are creating a network of friends… a genuine camaraderie. Selfishly, you can use these people as your backbone when times get hard, either for a person to listen to you, or to ask advice or opinions, or just someone to hangout with who doesn’t know all the terrible shenanigans going on in your life. The other way to view inviting people (new and old) into your life is to save that person too. All too often, we see these people, these friends, these beautiful human beings hurting themselves. People are more depressed in this day and age, it seems, and calling someone out to become a friend is a great idea, for everyone’s sake. You’ll see plenty of people you’ll feel have it all together. You’ll view a friend as being strong and courageous, but the sad thing is, we are all good at putting on a happy face for others’ sakes.
A short story: I had a cousin who has always lived in another state as my family. I would maybe see him once a year. When I did see him, I played with his sister mostly, and I was probably too shy to start a conversation with him… my own cousin for goodness sake! Anyway, we grew up. He went on to do great things, including going over to fight for our country. One Christmas my mom called me to tell me he was gone. He had been struggling with something… depression, anxiety, PTSD, all of the above… and he had decided he couldn’t handle it anymore. He took his life just days before Christmas. His death has had a lasting impact on me. We became friends on Facebook in the months before, and would you believe, I never once said, “Hello!” Why wouldn’t I say “hi” to a person was willing to let into my life to see my photos and my posts, but I couldn’t find anything to say to him. It was my pride, I suppose. Without having anything profound to say, I would have sounded like a goofy little girl, and I didn’t wish to embarrass myself. It has been a few years now, and it still really bothers me. So I’ve been working on that change in myself, and in doing so, I have found my life feels happier and less stressful when I invite others to me.
Do you live for yourself or for others?
This is a trick question, I believe. I’m definitely living for myself, but I’m trying to put others before me. In a recent church homily, our priest discussed what it is like to live in a new place, missing all the luxuries of home, and the struggles that come with it all. He was discussing refugees, but it reminded me of when I first made the move to Tulsa, OK. Our priest talked of the many ways we could assist this group of people in a neighborly fashion. That caused me to consider, how often am I helping those less fortunate than myself?
How many times have I donated my time, effort, or money to a charity of any kind? Maybe there is a greater cause I’d like to give to in order to change the world. That’s what we all hope for, right, to change the world? I see the suffering going on around me and I have sympathy for it all. I’ve weeped for those who have lost a loved one to cancer, to violence, to hatred, to suicide, and beyond, but what have I done but weep? We are not rich by any stretch, but I know I can give more than just money. I can help spread the word to those who can give. I can do work in the name of these causes, and I can certainly offer up prayers for more people to act in His name.
Who are these people I can give lovingly towards? They are my neighbors. They are my close friends. They are my family and relatives (even distant cousins). They are the children at the schools close by and far away. They are the homeless. They are the many different ages of foster care. They are the poor. They can even be the rich. They are the liberals and the conservatives. They are the people I sit next to in church. They are the elderly. They are also the young. They are those who are obviously struggling, and they are the strong as well. They are, basically, every single person I encounter daily, even my husband and children.
Giving lovingly to others is how I hope to live on a day to day basis. It is how I want to be thought about and how I want to be remembered years after I’ve left this world. Plus, it is the only way I know how to change the world… one small and loving gift at a time. This looks different to everyone, so you pretty much need to find your own path for this to be effective for you. I believe the world is full of good people, they outnumber the bad by far, but lately the good people have been too afraid to step up and show their greatness. Sometimes this is because of a lack of courage, sometimes it is because of how they were treated in the past, maybe insecurities are getting in the way, or quite possibly, it is due to the idea that nothing can be done to change the world.
If you are reading this, I’d like you to take on the challenge of changing yourself to change the world around you. You will have to give without expecting anything in return, even from the people you expect to return the favor. This is an act of selfless love, and when you can do that, love selflessly, you will see a change in yourself. Inevitably, things will change around you. Though it may seem to take longer than you hope, power through! Push through the tough parts of life to seek out the good in others. A domino affect will occur, but you have to start it. This is nothing simple. Trust me, I know how hard it will be for you. In the process you may feel pain from places you least expect. I did too, but it will get better. Be encouraging. Show God’s graces to others. Smile when you want to talk back or put someone in their place. Find a friend to talk to about how hard it is to travel on this journey. When you feel alone, talk with God. He will help you, even if you feel like He isn’t there… you know he is.
If you find yourself really struggling, contact me! I will listen. I will encourage you. I will understand because I’ve been through it and I may indeed go through it again.
Now, go spread joy!