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Raif: Doing the right things for the right reasons

Dec. 30, 2016 at 11:22 p.m.


The season of Christian goodwill is finished. Children have toys, coats and shoes. Families have food. Deployed soldiers have boxes of goodies. The rest of us have wonderful memories of beautiful lights, soul-stirring music and fellowship with loved ones. All these things are needed and we need to feel useful, doing our part to take God's love to others.

But what is the missing equation? You … and me. That one-on-one relationship with a hurting person who needs God's love 365 days a year.

When I moved back to my native Texas 12 years ago, I was dismayed by the lack of Christian acceptance of outsiders. I had grown up in church. My family was there every time the door was open. It was expected that everyone would take the Gospel to others. As an adult I learned that taking the Gospel has become very different than I thought it was.

During a very difficult time in my life, I went to small church nearby hoping to make friends who might help me through the pain. It didn't happen. I went to three different churches and not one person spoke to me, even after one crawled over me to get to her husband. Not even after I introduced myself to the people around the table at a Wednesday night dinner and was ignored the rest of the time. A pastor was shaking my hand as we filed out of the morning service, but talking to the person behind me. I wanted to shout, "Hey, people! I'm a real, live person."

This is what I call "cultural Christianity." We do all the right things, but without the right motive. We've done our Christian duty during the Christmas season, and now we can tell others, not about Jesus, but how much we've done to help those in need. We don't purposely break the Ten Commandments, we give our tithe, read our Bible and pray, so we must be pretty good Christians.

I finally joined a large church because I was able to teach a class there. One Sunday the pastor preached about a problem he was having with depression because of an unexpected family event. He told me later he hesitated to share such personal feelings, but felt God was telling him to do so. He said congregants were coming out of the woodwork to say they were going through the same thing.

On Sunday mornings I would see people nicely dressed and wonder how many really were hurting inside but were too embarrassed to say they needed help. I suggested to the minister of education that we begin a ministry of caring to show them, even lonely people like me, there was someone to help them bear their burdens, to pray with and be there for them.

This idea was modeled after a successful outreach ministry of a church in — of all places — Washington, D.C., that I attended when I lived there. Each church member was responsible for one individual, or family, but no more than four at one time.

The suggestion was enthusiastically received until I added the requirements: The church member had to commit to contacting the person once a week for three months, either by phone, e-mail, text or in person. That's when the idea fell apart. The minister of education said people wouldn't do it because they are too busy.

Too busy doing what? Our efforts at Christmas are vitally needed and someone has to do them, but giving up a little time, a little money, or effort is not getting out of our comfort zone. It's an arm around a hurting person, or sharing a meal in your home regularly with someone whose dinners are out of the Dumpster. It's buying a new dress a woman gets to try on, not just giving her one of your castoffs.

When I had a huge emotional and spiritual need in my life, a woman in a small church I finally found called me every night for three months to find out how I was doing or just to talk. She said she didn't want me to think no one loved or cared about me. That loving and caring kept me open to God, and saved my sanity.

In a Dec. 11 News-Journal story, Teresa Fears said we can't just "push religion down (people's) throats. You've got to go toward them with kindness … You've got to make them feel worthy, not like you're looking down on them. You can't treat them like a project. You've got to make them feel equal."

I might add that you've got to make them feel loved and valued just because they, too, are a child of God.

— Gayle Raif, a Longview resident, is a regular contributor to the Saturday Forum. Find her blog "Limiting God" at news-journal.com.

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