I remember when we got married, I joked with my husband that I missed the graffiti from my inner city neighborhood. It’s not that graffiti is something to be applauded (especially the kind that defaces property); however, it was a frequent reminder that my external environment reflected the people who lived around me. The neighborhood I grew up in never hid the daily struggles that the people were enduring. I took comfort in that. I took comfort in knowing that none of us pretended to live perfect lives and that we all dwelt in the discomfort of our obstacles together.
The realities of someone else’s suffering didn’t escape me. It didn’t disappear from my memory like driving by a homeless man off the highway and then moving on with my day. Instead, these social issues were in front of me daily—women pushing their children in grocery carts along with their folded laundry, homeless people walking to Catholic Charities, travelers walking to the nearby Greyhound station, homeless people begging near one of the highway off ramps (typically in pairs so they could split what little they received for the day), a pedestrian crossing the street while talking to himself (an indication of needing medical care and attention), stray dogs aimlessly looking for food as well as other social injustices that were part of everyday life. I didn’t have to go very far to see the needs of my community.
All of this offered me plenty for me to pray for and opportunities for me to get over myself and identify with the plight of other human beings.
Appearances Don’t Conceal the Need for Human Connection
The first time I felt the disparity of where I came from was when I began to nanny outside of my neighborhood during my teenage years. I remember pulling into a guard gated community and looking at the wrought iron gates, wondering why anyone would need a security guard and gates. In my naiveté I thought, “Surely these people must have a lot that needs protecting.”
I remember how perfect everything looked. Everyone’s trees were trimmed precisely, the lawns were all in sync and followed the same green color pattern as the rest of the homes I passed by (which I later realized was synthetic grass).
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with desiring to live in a safe community or in a place that provides opportunities to live a comfortable lifestyle; however, there can be a detachment from what is going on in the rest of the world. This detachment can lead to a forgetfulness of other people who may not lead the same lifestyle. The security our surroundings offer us shouldn’t remove the innate desire each of us has to offer compassion and love to the other person. This sense of security can convince us that we don’t need to get to know our neighbor or the community around us.
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Getting Outside of Yourself and Your Comfort Zone
Our surroundings shouldn’t keep us from being at the service of other people. It is through our presence and the way we live our lives daily that shows people we are Christians.
Ultimately it doesn’t take having to live in an impoverished area or low-income neighborhood to learn the needs of the people around you. Anyone can write a check, but the difference is when you are on the ground. When you walk with people right where they are. When you spend time getting to know someone you can identify the longings and needs of that person regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Our security should prompt us to give more and go outside of ourselves because we have the means to live in comfort and our hearts are moved to help other people have the basic human needs that they need for that day.
In imitation of our Master, we Christians are called to confront the poverty of our brothers and sisters, to touch it, to make it our own and to take practical steps to alleviate it. // Pope Francis
Ultimately it’s the way your witness attracts others to Christ. How do you treat the mailman, the waste collector, the Amazon delivery driver, the street sweeper, the store clerk, or the janitor? Do you look up from your grocery cart or your walk and acknowledge the people around you?
Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. // Mother Teresa
Ideas to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
- Adopt a local or refugee family
- Give toys to a foster care facility
- Send care packages to prisoners
- Keep bus passes on hand to help someone with transportation or gift cards to McDonalds to alleviate someone’s hunger
- Make hygiene kits for the homeless
- Organize a clothing drive for homeless youth
It doesn’t take much more than sheer desire to do something for others
It doesn’t always have to be monetary, either. Consider all the towels in your linen closet, the extra toothbrushes under your sink from your last dental visit, the fuzzy socks that keep you warm at night with your matching pajamas. The work of forgetting ourselves is done little by little. The commodities of our lives should move us towards selflessness; although, we know the closer we are to convenience, the further we become detached to the needs of others.
Baking something or cooking a meal instead of buying it can show your generosity as well. Let it cost you your time and think about who you are giving it to. Do it with love. Instead of purchasing that non-essential item at Target that wasn’t on your list to begin with, put it back on the shelf and deny yourself that thing and think of someone else who doesn’t have the ability to get off of the list. Instead of drying your clothes line dry them and offer it up for someone who doesn’t have the convenience of a dryer and has to walk to the laundromat every week.
I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt because real poverty hurts and dispossession—what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty… would not be valid without this penitential dimension. This is the exhortation to bear witness to the Gospel message to those who live in material, moral and spiritual poverty. // Pope Francis
Growth in Holiness
It is a balance that can be difficult to achieve but once we ask Jesus to show us the way to make ourselves comfortable in the discomfort of our surroundings, we can begin to grow in virtue and holiness.
The good news of the Gospel equips us to see beyond our own needs and difficulties, allowing us to make the struggles of others our own—not in a way that causes us grief or desperation, but in a way that allows us to love and be beacons of hope to others.
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