“Receiving God’s Love is like breathing in. Responding to the suffering of others is like breathing out. If I do the one without the other, I will pass out”
-Living without Enemies
What does “I’m there for you” actually mean.
Living without enemies identifies four models of engagement:
Working for (the professional services model)
Working with (more of a partnership our joint venture model)
Being with (actually being present with those who suffer)
Being for (like academic models of advocacy, lobbying for change)
The being with model is the model with highest potential for trust. Being with the disadvantaged, injured, hurting or oppressed means experiencing in our own lives something of what it is to be disempowered, injured or oppressed. It means setting aside our own strategies and plans for change and simply feeling with the disadvantaged, injured or oppressed the pain of their situation. It involves seeing the implications poverty, injury and oppression has for people’s sense of themselves and their connections with one another-not only their material well-being. It means seeing tensions and contradictions within and between disadvantaged, injured or hurting people and more advantaged people and recognizing through this that all of us are part of the problem. Poverty, injury and oppression is not just out their. It’s in all of us.
Being with goes beyond working for, working with or being for people. It means experiencing in our own bodies some of the fragility of relationships of self-esteem and general well-being that are at the heart of poverty, injury, oppression and trauma.
It means having the patience not to search for the light switch, but to sit side by side for a time in the shadows.
In the story of Job, it is often overlooked that his much maligned comforters saw the depth of his suffering and “they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights and no one spoke a word to him because they saw his suffering was great” (Job 2:13)
Being with is incomprehensible to a world where working for is trumped over everything else. We even do it in our own families. Our innate response is to jump to fix and solve the problems of others when the most profound healing might spring forth from simply willing to be with them. Alone. In the dark. Side by side. Sitting on the ground.
We are terrified of divesting ourselves of all we “know” and all the “wisdom” we can impart. That is after all how we “help” others.
Of course there is value in working for and working with. There is profound value in being for. But being with. Just hanging out. Being present in pain as much as in joy. We miss so much. If only we knew what would bring peace.
The being with model says “Let’s not wait until all the fixing and solving is done. Let’s make these discoveries now. Let’s hang out”
Maybe this is where the healing begins. Can we for a time suspend our search for the light switch? And just sit alone in the dark. Side by side. On the ground. With each other. For as long as it takes
Being with is the basis for everything else. It says “I am for you. I will work for you. I will work with you. I am there for you.”
Unless we are prepared to sit in the dark, on the ground, side by side with those who are disadvantage, injured, traumatized or oppressed, our words, “I am there for you” lack integrity.
If only we knew what would bring us peace.
As always, peace.
References: Living without Enemies, Sam Wells