A Pastor's Ponderings and Such

Supporting Others

Biblical Witness: Romans 12:6 — 18
We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Contemporary Witness:
“Tune My Heart” by Rev. Vince Amlin (UCC Daily Devotional; May 2, 2022)

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. – 1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (NRSV)

Last week, my wife and I went to the Milwaukee Art Museum. In one of the galleries, there was a video installation playing on a loop. As we made our way into the next wing, my wife started humming a quick, four-note pattern.

“That’s the music that was playing over that video,” she said, and hummed it again.

“Uh…no it wasn’t,” I insisted. “It sounded like this.” And I sang a slow, descending three notes. We both looked at each other confused.

“Now we have to go back,” she said. And we did. The moment we opened the doors to the gallery, I heard those quick four notes she had hummed.

“You were right,” I admitted. But even as I said it, underneath them came my slow, descending motif. We were both right. Both lines had been playing over and over, and each of us had heard only one of them. Another example of the way the Spirit is made manifest, the way beloved community is built. Not by choosing one line to sing in unison, but by learning each of our parts well enough to find the rich harmonies between them. Not by convincing others to hear God’s voice the way I hear it. But by encouraging everyone to listen deeply to what the Spirit may be saying only to them.

Reflection: “Supporting Others”
We know that a part of our Christian teaching is that we’re supposed to support one another. This is not a revelatory subject. Some of the most basic tenets of our faith are principles like “treat others as we would like to be treated”, (The Gospel of Luke 6:31) and “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep,” which we read in our Romans passage.

Supporting each other is a way of making connections; creating and sustaining community. It’s the way that friendships grow and is especially powerful when it’s mutual rather than one sided. It’s a human desire and need – one that our ancestors knew was important enough that they put it into their teachings about God.

Knowing that you are a part of a supportive relationship or a member of a supportive community, is good for your mental health and wellness. It’s what got many of us through the isolation of the pandemic. While having solitude and alone time is really great for many of us, isolation can bring on despondency and despair. The line between the two varies from person to person. And the way we seek connection – what offers meaningful support – varies as well.

Rev. Vince Amlin, in his devotional, reminds us that we are all different. This got me thinking about how there are different ways that each of us need to be supported. Not only that, but also, how each of us has different was of being supportive.

On this second Sunday of Mental Health Awareness month, I want us to think about the ways we offer support to others. What are the ways that we feel required to offer support? What are the ways we flow effortlessly with support? Are they the same?

It’s easy to see needs around us. When those we care about are going through hard stuff, naturally we want to help. Along with sharing friendship or engaging in supportive community behaviour, this is a way to express Divine Love. While are faith teachings tells us that we are supposed to be zealous in giving, we also have to remind ourselves that each of us are finite beings. We can only do so much.

Paul writes to the people in Rome about the different kinds of gifts they have. Some are teachers. Some offer compassion. Some are encouragers. Some are leaders. The list goes on. Paul teaches that each person is to learn their gift and to flow in it.

That said, let’s not confuse having gifts that flow out of our personalities with the need to cultivate basic good human character.

For instance, compassion is mentioned as a gift by Paul, as is leadership. Does that mean that a compassionate person can’t be a leader. Or that a leader is not to have compassion? Ridiculous, right? Still, it’s something to think about. Sometimes we can make excuses for ourselves that we just aren’t gifted with x or y or z, and so we don’t have to cultivate that particular good human character. There’s a difference between being delighted to have a gifted way of offering support, and cultivating good character so that we can when the necessity of being support presents itself, we at least have the rudimentary skills of being there in the moment for someone until we can find a person who can really flow in that situation.

That’s also a part of self-care. Knowing where you’re gifted and knowing resources of others who have gifts that you don’t is a way of being supportive to yourself and to your community. We can get bogged down with all the ways we don’t know how to help or simply don’t have the skills. It can paralyze us which means we can’t be supportive in the moment. As we grow in maturity, we learn that we can’t do everything. That we truly are finite. As we grow in our faith, we learn that God doesn’t require us to be able to do everything; to have all the gifts or skills. What is required is that we care enough about each other to be there with and for each other.

We can all cultivate the basic skills of being decent to each other, and also be released to offer our particular set of gifts in certain situations to be helpful. It’s a joy to flow in our particular gifts. It makes us feel accomplished, fulfilled. When we are in that space, it means that the people who receive our gifts are able to do so freely because they were so freely and joyfully given.

The trick can be to know what kind of support a person might need. Rev. Amlin, when he talks about the song that he and his wife heard different parts of, helps us see that sometimes we only hear part of … and understand part of. Deep listening, like when they went back a second time to intentionally listen to the music, allows us to get a greater grasp on what is being expressed to us.

There are times when it’s easy to look at a situation and decide for someone what they need based on what we might need in that situation. And we might even be partially right. We might be hearing the four high notes or the three low tones, but maybe not putting it together.

When we offer support, it’s important to discern whether we are doing so for the health and well-being of the person we want to care for, or if we are doing it for our own sake. This can be something that is a challenge to figure out when we first undertake this kind of self-reflection; but after awhile, it can become almost second-nature. The key is to learn how not to make assumptions.

One of the things I appreciate about the teachings about Jesus’ ministry is that he often stopped to think or he asked questions before moving forward. Sometimes supporting each other is more about taking time to be together than it is about taking a specific action. Not always. Actions are important. Helping people find things they need, whether it’s items, lodging, food, water, medical services, job opportunities, and the like are crucial to offering support. A lot of times though, what’s needed first is our presence and our understanding. When someone feels like they are being offered what they have really asked for, their wellness quotient grows beyond the support they receive.

When we let go of our own need to be supportive and are present with the people we care about, all of our wellness factors increase, and love expands to fill the space we create. The presence of Holy Love knits us together, making us all stronger, better known, and healthier in our souls, hearts, and minds. Our faith leads us and our gifts flow.

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