Cornel West defines justice as, “what love looks like in public.” He defines love simply as, “the steadfast commitment to the well-being of the other.”
Somehow I always found it pretty easy to love the people I was paid to love. Its not like all social workers and care givers treat their clients with love, but the wise people who trained me taught me right off that love was a professional mandate. With this mandate, I discovered that the command to love—a rocky road with my friends and family, and near impossible with my enemies—came rather effortlessly with my clients.
In truth, my clients were not better than other people in my life. There was, in fact, some human fault to be found in the crass, smelly street kids, paranoid-schizophrenic homeless women, and incarcerated pregnant felons I found myself in the company of. It’s just that I quickly learned that my clients’ lives were shaped by so many hurdles and traumas I could never fully understand. In our relationship, I was focused on a singular goal: to be helpful. It was clear my opinions were not the least bit useful or relevant in achieving this goal. They were an unwelcome intrusion on my work. So each day, in accordance with my training, I checked them at the door. It was really much easier than I thought it would be because it was a commitment, not an emotion.
I noticed a few things about practicing this:
1. This orientation was tremendously liberating to me. I felt like a terrible weight was lifted that I never knew I carried.
2. I liked the social worker me much better than the regular me. I wondered, could I possibly take her home?
3. Surprisingly, my opinionless support of people at work revealed more truth about them than my critical, analytical, opinionated orientation to people I knew casually…snap. I’d been doing it wrong.
At home I was unable to wrap my head around how to love people who were annoying, rude, angry, or controlling. At work, no problem. I simply realized that they did not exist for me to like or dislike. It was not their purpose to make my job easier, but it was actually my chosen and stated purpose to make their job easier.
One day in worship, during a time when I was working in a particularly harrowing job, God gave me a vision. Maybe on that day I was especially self-absorbed and cranky with other people’s spoken ministry. I don’t remember. But in the vision, all of my rag-tag clients were there in worship, standing and giving incoherent rants, cussing, smelling up the place, and praising God. And I thought, this must be what heaven is like! I remember this vision often, and remembering it can restore me to joyfully receive that of God in others, even my friends and family, as clumsy and problematic as they are.
Contributed by Jade Souza, Reedwood Friends