Tucked into this week's gospel passage is one little verse known as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31). Often this verse is interpreted as literally giving someone else what you want. I would like a Reese's peanut butter cup, so I'll give you one. I would like to have my car washed, so I'll offer to wash yours. I would like to hear that I've done a good job, so I'll tell you that you have. I would like a comforting hug, so I'll give you one. I need time with a good friend when I'm down, so I will assume that since you looked pensive today, you need me to take you to lunch. These all sound like very thoughtful things, but the focus is on the wrong person. The focus in each of these thoughts is "I/me" instead of you.
What if you are allergic to peanuts? What if you just washed your car yesterday? or don't even have a car? What if you are comfortable with the quality of your work, and my opinion is really of no consequence? What if I have no idea what constitutes "a good job" in your particular situation? What if someone touching you makes you anxious or triggers a terrible memory or sets loose emotions just under the surface that you aren't prepared to share? What if lunch with me is the last thing you need today because what you really need is for people to respect your boundaries of time and space? Do you see the problem here? Interpreted literally, this verse is not golden at all. Instead, it is incredibly selfish, and could even be unkind.
You may recognize that the five offerings in the first paragraph are reflective of the five love languages described by author, Gary Chapman: gifts, acts of service, words of encouragement, physical touch, and quality time. According to Chapman, we each have our own primary love language in which we can hear someone say, "I love you," and process it appropriately. When I work with couples in pre-marital counseling, we explore their love languages early on in an effort to identify each one's primary language and find ways to express that in a way that it is heard and understood. Chapman worked with Paul White and the same languages to show appreciation in the workplace, but the key to both is paying attention to the other person's needs the same way you would want your partner or coworker to think about you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I have a friend who has been single for many years. When she underwent surgery, the deacons in her church lined up two meals per day for her for weeks after. It was incredibly thoughtful of them to care for her, and she appreciated it tremendously because there was no family nearby to assist her. Her church stepped in as family to offer support, and she understood that. But every person brought a full family-sized meal, and every single one that brought a salad brought an entire bottle of salad dressing. She had one refrigerator for her one self. Storage rapidly became an issue. Waste rapidly became an issue. There was only so much room, even for freezing portions of the meal for future consumption. Had she been consulted, she could have named what she thought she might need. She could have said, "A single serving plate will be more than enough, thank you," or "I'm fine with leftovers, so that I would only need a couple of family-sized meals per week" (instead of per day). But no one asked.
Robert Lupton talks about this in Toxic Charity: How Churches Hurt Those They Help and How to Reverse It. In our rush to "help," we end up hurting because we impose what we think is needed on the object of our assistance. That's how we see others sometimes ... as objects of our good intentions. But at the other end of assistance is a person or a group of people whose needs may be different than we assume. It's as simple as asking what someone needs instead of deciding for them. Even if I come from the same culture, community, family as you, my experience can be different. I am different. You cannot know what I need based on your experience. So ask. Just ask. That's all. Ask "What do you need?" Ask "How can I help?"
This is the spirit of the Golden Rule. Show the same respect you would want to receive. Show the same thoughtfulness you would want someone else to show you. This sums up the entire challenging passage. If all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) (and in case you were wondering, we have), then we do not just have enemies, we are enemies. Someone calls us "the other." Someone sees us as a threat. Maybe we have given them reason to feel that way. Maybe we haven't personally, but someone else has. Regardless, if we would want a second chance, if we would hope for reconciliation, if we would desire an opportunity to amend our shortcomings and receive forgiveness, then this is what we, too, are called to do. May it be so.
Julie participated in the 25th Seminar for Certified Zentangle(R) Teacher Training in June, 2019, trained by Rick Roberts and Maria Thomas. In addition to creating art as a personal spiritual practice, Julie also incorporates the Zentangle(R) method in Prayer Art Retreats in a variety of contexts, including church groups, friend gatherings, and at a local art gallery. Check out the Upcoming Events page for a calendar of events, or use the Contact Us page to inquire about scheduling an event with your group!
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