No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.
-1 Corinthians 10:24
Last week I was out running as the sun came up in our local state park. After sunrise it's common to see people out walking their dogs on the trail. It's a peaceful and quiet way to start the day. Dogs are required to be leashed on all the trails, for safety and consistency. But nevertheless, I encounter leashless dogs almost daily.
Most of us runners have been bit or snipped at while running. It's a rather intense experience, and it leaves you with a slight lack of trust in any owner's words (I love dogs, by the way).
So as I turned a corner, I was not surprised when I encountered a dog 10 yards in front of its owner. I stopped, as I always do, so that I didn't get mistaken for a fetch toy.
"It's fine, he's friendly!", exclaimed the owner. I stayed put. With a guarded smile, I replied. "I have no doubt that's true. It's just that all of us runners have been bitten by other friendly dogs before."
Once they passed, I continued on. Now let me tell you, that dog was gentle and delightfully well behaved, happily wagging his tail. Even so, I was now on high alert.
It got me thinking about the call of Jesus to truly love our neighbors. One way we can live this out is learning to give up our own comfort for the sake of another's comfort and safety, especially when we are in positions of power.
The owner of the dog knew that there wasn't a real risk there. Yet he also knew that I was uncomfortable. And in the flippant don't worry about it statement, he continued to have all the power, while I continued to be uncomfortable. There was no harm intended, but the message communicated was that "I’m not going to change anything for your sake. You’ll have to trust me and let me have all the power right now, just because I say so." Putting a hand on that collar would have been a small act of selfless care.
As Christ followers who seek not our own good, but the good of others, we are called to move beyond “oh don’t worry,” and into a space of care and extra consideration.
I had a female coworker years ago who had previously experienced trauma from another man. After years of friendship, she finally confided in me that when I dropped by to chat, she always felt anxiety when I stood in the doorway of her office, blocking her only way out.
“But you know me! I would never do anything to harm you!” was my possible response, and it was the first thing that went through my mind, honestly.
Instead (in a rare moment of getting it right), I suggested that maybe when we chatted, which we both enjoyed doing, that she swing by my office. That way she could stand in the doorway instead. It was such a relief to her for me to suggest that.
No, I was not a physical risk. Yet there was a way I could give up the power to make her feel cared for and less powerless. She was so much more relaxed and at ease in my presence after that- even though she already trusted me.
This relates directly to our need to be trauma-informed as a people, but it also speaks to our very basic calling to place others' needs above our own comfort.
Some who grew up in certain types of churches saw the "others above yourself" teachings used to steamroll any form of healthy boundaries and self care, leaving people beaten down without permission to prioritize their own emotional or physical health. That's truly damaging. But let us be careful that we don't omit the beautiful way of Jesus simply becomes we've seen it expressed in unhealthy ways. That also misses the mark of other-oriented love.
We do indeed have a calling to lay our lives down for others in order to show them just how valuable and worthy of dignity they are in God’s world. In little and big ways, we can communicate to one another: your needs matter. Your sensitivities matter. I want to come alongside to help you feel comfortable and to be able to relax in my presence, so that you can also get a glimpse of Jesus through me. Sometimes that means we have to relinquish our power and comfort for the sake of another. But it's the beautiful way of Jesus.
Jesus, help me see where I have opportunities to be truly other-oriented today.