Loving our neighbor is a fundamental part of Christian faith—Jesus made it part of his summary of the law and the prophets. Christian relational practices focus on the wellbeing of others around us. This is more than being nice; it is about intentional choices to commit to the wellbeing of others.
Dewayne told us that he had started to feel troubled about how his life as a student might be shaping him spiritually. It was not so much what he was learning as how he was relating to the school around him. There were cafeteria employees who prepared lunch for him every day. There were staff who took care of the school campus and got rid of trash. There were teachers who prepared classes, office staff who provided support, coaches who organized sport. He started to worry that he was surrounded every day by a host of people serving his needs, and that if he let that be the pattern without giving back it might just reinforce his selfishness and complacency instead of helping him to grow. He decided that the next semester he was going to take time each week to connect with people in his school community whom he didn’t know well: cafeteria and janitorial staff, office assistants, even some of his teachers. He started by simply learning their names then, over time, he asked them how he could pray for them and tried to learn enough about their own needs and concerns to lift him out of his own worries and get him thinking about how he could help them have a better day. The goal was not to become the hero who fixed everything, it was just to slowly start working at habits of attending to the needs of others. As Paul, the Apostle, put it in Philippians 2:3, “Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself.” What small, daily choices might help you grow towards this?
A religion class was reading the book Life Together by the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In one part of the book, Bonhoeffer describes the Psalms as the prayer book of the body of Christ and recommends reading the Psalms daily, in sequence. The day’s Psalm may not at all reflect what I happen to be feeling, but this is to be a reminder that it is not about me. I may not be experiencing the pain, joy, doubt, or anger in the Psalm at the moment, but someone else in the body of Christ is, and so the Psalm invites me to join in with their prayers. After trying our praying a Psalm each morning with this focus on praying along with the concerns of others, Sarah wrote in her journal.
“Reading from holy scripture at the beginning of the day prepared me for the whole day. It is easy to forget that the whole day belongs to God. I often begin with an idea of what I have to do during the day. … I find it interesting and important that I think about others beside myself. Bonhoeffer says that the Psalms are for the whole community, and that they describe all its cares and sufferings and praises. Through the Psalms I can remember everything that the community is experiencing, even when I am not experiencing everything myself.”