Being the Other in a Disconnected World
Last year, I listened to Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, The Power of the Other. The book is in the business genre, but its principles are applicable to life in general. Dr. Cloud illustrated “the power of the other” as he recounted a story of a Navy Seal. The “other” in the story was Dr. Cloud’s brother-in-law who was killed in the line of duty. At the funeral, the soldier's friend told a story about his friend being the other for him in a way that set the course of his life.
I don’t know a lot of about the arduous training those soldiers go through to become Seals, but apparently, they must finish by getting themselves out of the ocean. Minutes from reaching his goal, the friend was near exhaustion. His physical resources were shot. He would have to give up and be extracted. Just as he was near despair, he saw his buddy on the shore making gestures to cheer him on. He was looking at him dead in the eye, waving him in. Jumping and waving, his friend was saying, “I believe in you. You can do this! You can!” A surge of strength came upon him—the power of the other.
There are people around us who are at the very end of themselves. They need encouragement. Those of us in Christ are particularly suited for this mission. We are empowered by Love. The love of God infuses us with strength that alone we do not have. Because we have received the love of Jesus, we have love to give away without fear of being depleted. Proverbs 11:25 says it so well:
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”
Our lives are interconnected. The giving of ourselves doesn’t drain our lives unless we are giving apart from Christ. If we give only for what we can get back, we circumvent the principle. When I think of this proverb, I picture a cup so full that it spills as we offer it to another. We are watered as we give generously, recklessly, and without thought of what we should keep for ourselves.
“Failure to love others as Jesus loves us… chokes off the flow of the eternal kind of life that our whole human system cries out for.” (Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart)
To live engaged is to live in grace and in truth. We offer our bodies, present in the world as living sacrifices to others as Jesus instructed. These acts of love are given as reasonable service— acts of worship at the grocery store, the post office, or at church. Yes, at church, where we should be most connected but often are not.
Have you noticed how we are adapting to a society that promotes withdrawal from each other — self-checkout in stores— or even more so, pick up at the car and delivery at the front door? We self-pump gas, shop online, take classes online and sometimes opt for online worship—and the most devastating of all (maybe?), we are adjusting to online friendship, at least for friendships where we live in close proximity to those we could see in real life but now are satisfied to brush by occasionally in the newsfeed.
Because the of the cultural shift, more than ever we must be intentional about engaging with others who cross our paths—those that we know and those that we don’t. We don’t have to have long deep conversations with people to bless them. The point is to engage with others in ways that acknowledge their dignity as people made in the image of God. Withdrawal is the opposite narrative, one that is far from life-giving.
Andy Crouch in his book, Strong and Weak, likens our tendency toward withdrawal as the desire to be self-protective at all costs. It’s why taking cruises is so popular. They are safe, predictable. They fit well into a common life value. Most people want to opt out of risk when they are on vacation. They want the same for life. Interacting as “the other” is always risky. Life with the intention of being the other is more like rafting a whitewater river. Entering into another’s pain feels vulnerable because it is.
I don’t consciously withdraw, but I get self-focused and busy. When I become more intentional about being the other I don’t treat people as if they’re invisible. Acknowledging the presence of another is a small gift of love. It tells others that they matter.
Jesus showed us how to be the other. He interacted with people every day. He was intentional as He made his way to the blind, the demon-possessed, and the hungry. He offered them what he had, which we know was a lot. This knowledge can become an excuse to withdraw. We know we can’t offer the hurting what Jesus could. Or can we?
We can love. We can take notice. We can share our faith with them. We can believe those who are struggling are worthy of our strength even if we have to believe in them from the shore. We love because God first loved us. It’s that simple.
“True transformation of the world, and ourselves, will only happen as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ—as his way becomes our way, his source of power becomes our source, and his patterns of life become our patterns.” (Andy Crouch)
This week let’s set our intention towards being the other. This may be our greatest calling. May being the other be a source of blessing that brings goodness and beauty to the world as we love our neighbors as we love ourselves.