I think I’ve been had.
Everyday I have people sit in front of me and tell me far lass then the truth. It is one of the few carryovers of the pastorate into the world in which I work. Another carry over is talking with people in vulnerable situations needing a kind smile and listening ears and eyes.
Let’s call her “Cheryl.” I believed every word. And prayed for her. I even gave some advice on how to find some help, which she thanked me for. She repeatedly put her face in her young hands and said “oh God” over and over and over. She even told me God was the only reason she was surviving.
Now it is possible most of the story she told me is true…how she had been mistreated by a soon-to-be-ex-husband. It’s possible. But I still think I’ve been had. It could be she sat down at my desk and did not tell me the whole truth out of desperation. That’s certainly possible.
My first reaction? I don’t like being taken advantage of.
But then I thought for a few more moments. Why?
The one part of my job that I love is the opportunity to be kind when people least expect it. To go the extra mile to make sure people know that I am not there to take of advantage of them. Put them at ease. I’m pretty good at it.
I’ve been reading through Eugene Peterson’s memoir again. And last night I read his words on how people are not a problem to be solved but a story to be entered into. It’s good advice even when you aren’t a pastor.
So would I rather be taken advantage of when trying to help someone…or be so hard-hearted and cynical that kindness is the exception and not the rule?
While I understand the need to be as wise as serpents and innocent as doves, I also would prefer to be kind and deceived than cynical and defensive. I’ve had enough of that over the past couple of years.
I’m no hero here. I have to really fight anger and keep my natural inclinations at bay. The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.
Look, this is probably old hat to most people. But we’ve been a little guarded over the past couple of years. Being tender-hearted has not been easy when you feel you’ve been taken advantage of and been the recipient of unkindness, you tend to want to dish that out.
So no heroes here. Just some realization.
Good post. One of the harder things I’ve found about ministry is maintaining the willingness to be duped and taken advantage of over and over again, while still preserving a sense of hope for each person who could simply be the next to take advantage — or, who could be another soul I get to shepherd and care for along the way.
Diaconal ministries of benevolence, helps, and care are often quite at threat to the cynicism that can come from “being had.” (This is one reason why I frankly despise the term “mercy ministries” — because the very notion of mercy in that sense implies that the “givers” of so-called mercy ministries are not, themselves, also desperately in need of mercy.)
What you’re articulating is right on: the more we are aware of how much we receive, the more willing we are/should be to give generously of ourselves, whatever the risk.
Press on in that, brother — I pray for protection against the cynicism.
A nice reminder. Having been burned in ministry I forget, more than I should, that giving out the hurt is something I have to be conscience of when I am dealing with others.