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People are More Important than Change

The principle from the last lesson of Serving with Dignity is people are more important than change. This is one of the most impactful principles of the course even though there is not a ton of new material in this lesson. The impact stems from familiarity. Most of us know what it feels like to be someone else's project and how painful it is to want a positive change for someone else (who doesn't seem to want it). Neither of these feel good.

We help others because we'd like to see an improvement in their life whether we're trying to alleviate suffering or simply help them overcome an obstacle. We serve to see change. If things didn't need to change in some way, we wouldn't be helping. But when the type of change we hope to see or the timeframe over which we hope to see the change becomes more important than the person we're trying to help, we are no longer serving with dignity.

The Bible teaches us to love others, not change them. It's ok to want positive changes in others but we should be focused on love, not change. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul says that "love keeps no record of wrongs" and that "love believes all things and endures all things." Our job is to see the best in people and believe that God can produce deep transformation in their heart and in their lives. We can pray that God does his powerful work in them while we help carry their burdens for a season.

We help others knowing that they, like us, have what it takes to make a start but aren't going anywhere meaningful alone. We need each other. So we offer help, open-handedly and without much expectation. Over time, the relationship will head towards dependence or interdependence. The more dependent it becomes, the more destructive it will be...for both parties. The more interdependent it becomes, the more edifying it will be...for both parties.

We can tell how dependent or interdependent the relationship might be by looking at the ideas and resources being used to improve situations that arise. If the ideas and resources are all coming from one party, it's a dependent relationship. If the ideas and resources are coming from both parties, it's more interdependent.

Even in situations where dependency is built into the relationship (like child to parent), the very nature of that relationship, when it is healthy, involves the parent developing healthy independence in the child by engaging the child's ideas and resources at age-appropriate levels. Similarly, with people with disabilities who need ongoing care - the best care meets them at the height of their capacity not the lowest point.

Serving with Dignity teaches us how to build dignified interdependent relationships. Ideally, this type of relationship includes two parties that are sufficiently independent to voluntarily participate in a healthy relationship. To be dignified and interdependent, the relationship must address its God-given purpose and include giving and receiving. It is a relationship that is mutually supportive in ways appropriate to the context.

Things are rarely ideal. Most of our relationships involve an ongoing negotiation of who takes responsibility for what. Sometimes we like it when someone else takes a bit more responsibility for our life than we do. But if we're healthy, we'll course correct. Sometimes it's just easier to do something for someone else than to do it with them (or to watch them not do it at all). But, in general, we want each party to be the captain of their own life and be willing to both give and receive help.

Driving for change in another person that they don't really want for themselves is futile. It doesn't mean we can't express our desire for change or that we shouldn't set boundaries. We express ourselves and set boundaries mainly for ourselves. And while these actions may inspire the other party to want to change, we can't count on that.

Our hopes and dreams for others only matter if it encourages them to take a positive next step. We can't make someone do that, we can't force or beg someone into meaningful change. God is the author of all meaningful change. He asks us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. We are not the answer to anyone's problems but we can almost always be helpful. Offer help. Offer love. But don't take the bait of assuming responsibility for someone else's life.

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