What and How
What if the way in which we help others is just as important as the what of our help? What if the process of helping people is equally as impactful as the content of our help?
Here’s an example: the other day my son was watching tv when I called the kids to the table for dinner. When he did not respond, I walked into the room where he was lying on his tummy, looking up at the tv. As I stood over him, I told him again that it was time for dinner. This time he responded, but with a resounding “No!” Rather than continue to look down my nose at my son and demand his compliance, I had the sudden inspiration to lie down beside him, look him in the eye, and gently tell him, “I know you’re watching a show right now, but mommy made dinner and it’s time to eat.” I didn’t actually make it through that whole sentence. Almost as soon as I got on the floor and started talking, my son jumped up and ran, giggling, to the dining room.
As I reflect on this encounter, it is striking to me that the words I said, or planned to say, were essentially the same in both scenarios. The explicit content of my message called for obedience. But one message, the first, emphasized the inequality in our relationship. My position standing over my son emphasized my authority. With the second, I didn’t give up my authority, just the physical expression of power, and in so doing helped my son stop rebelling and comply with my command.
When we look at Scripture, we see this reality every where. Words matter, messages are of infinite importance, but action is equally valuable. Jesus said he loved us, and demonstrated that love by laying down his life (1 John 3:26-18). This is just as true for for relational conversations as it is for concrete acts of service. So when we seek to help others – bearing one another’s burdens, encouraging one another, welcoming one another, comforting one another, serving one another – we are called to image the God who speaks and acts with perfect congruence. Our way of being with one another – posture, tone, pace, pitch, gestures, expressions – should be just as congruent with the gospel as the actual words we speak.