I love compartmentalizing people. It makes them easier to control.
It’s like organizing your closet (which I secretly enjoy), except instead of socks and ice skates you get to decide where people are stored for future use as you see fit.
A few years ago a friend organized a birthday gathering for me, and before I knew it, I had acquaintances from almost every area of my life – new friends, old friends, family, co-workers and roommates – coming out to celebrate with me.
It was terrifying.
Not to sound ungrateful for the gesture, but the conclusion of that evening came to me as an incredible relief. I even recall tweeting something like: “That was fun, now I would appreciate if you could all get back into your compartments. Thank you. #worldscolliding”
I wonder if this has something to do with a social “divide and conquer” mentality. If I keep my social circles separate, I can control the expectations set on me by each group, and behave accordingly. It sounds really juvenile to admit this, but there is more truth to it than I’d like to accept.
People are unpredictable, you see, and you cannot control their expectations, behaviors or perceptions.
Ask any parent of a toddler or teenager. Or put yourself in God’s proverbial shoes: not long after God had miraculously delivered the Israelites from Egypt, Moses found them worshiping a cow (who, as it turns out, had not delivered them from anything).
The reality is that relating is messy. Real life is messy. Humans are fickle. Some people have really bad breath. Some people are addicted to heroin. You can choose to wait on your perch of control forever, but certain people you know will always disappoint you.
Unfortunately, you need to prepare to engage in some of the mess if you want to make a difference in the world. You have to let go of your control, become vulnerable to all sorts of circumstances that make you uncomfortable because you’re not sure what will happen next or what people will do to you or expect from you — yikes.
Whether or not you’ve been taught this, you need to understand, the best and worst part of humans is their humanity.
While you are not responsible for the results of your interactions with people, you’re extremely responsible for interacting with them.
Since there’s no point in expecting things to change without your help, you may as well get your hands dirty. People weren’t meant to be controlled anyway. People were meant to be cared for.
Not sure what that looks like? There is a great book full of stories about a father who chose, time and time again, that the best way to help his children thrive was to serve, protect and spend time with them (and sometimes speak to them from flaming shrubbery). You will find this book in hotel dressers and church pews.
Unfortunately, many of us who have been reared in a Western mindset value things like control, options, and self-sufficiency. Nothing worthwhile I’ve ever done in the world has ever been done alone, when I chose the easy option, or under my complete control.
I will speak this truth until my dying breath.
You cannot impact the world without getting involved with the human race. You have to be vulnerable. You have to show up when you don’t feel like it. You have to subject yourself to other people’s crap (and they will experience yours, too).
No one has a well-organized compartment for serving, giving and selfless living. Sacrificing for those in need requires a step of faith and a little elbow grease. You cannot manage this with a spreadsheet.
It starts with a choice. It continues with follow-through.
It ends with you realizing that the mess of community growth is better than your best compartment. It is not easy, but totally worth it.
Your first step can really be anything. But whatever it is, commit to it, follow through even on your worst day, and every now and then take a look at who is still battling with you. It’s a battle worth fighting.
Your life is the only compartment God needs for life-change to happen. Start with a chore for a neighbor, coaching a youth soccer team, providing a meal for a hungry family, tutoring a struggling student. In actuality, your lifetime of committing to benefitting the world doesn’t depend on starting in the perfect place. But it does depend on you starting.
There are communities of people who do this everywhere.
Find one. Don’t do it alone. There is something about sacrificing in community for others with Christ that has a divine, addictive nature.
You are not Mother Theresa. But you are you, which means you were wonderfully made and have something to offer. Let your hold on the tether of your life loosen a little, and start offering something to the world.
[Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography, Creative Commons]