A New Approach to Serving Others

Today, I hear my husband explain a new way to care for folks in our community.  He says that we do things “with” people and not “for” them.  As a scholar obsessed with the nuances of language, I find myself baffled by how a simple change in a preposition revolutionizes how we act.

Prepositions reveal relationship.  Am I doing things “with” my community or just “for” my community?  For years, my husband and I followed the model of doing things “for” other people.  But two years ago, we wanted to belong to our community and not stand outside of it.

We had recently heard a Navajo Indian speaking about various groups that would visit his reservation.  They’d bring help or aid and quickly leave.  Yet what the Navajo truly wanted, more than anything else, was to be known, understood, and valued.  They wanted the organizations to be “with them” and not just come do things “for them.”

In our community, I have learned (finally) to be with people.  The walk-to-school campaigns, the Monday Night Fitness Groups, and the Saturday Pancakes are all about being with my community.  We mutually encourage, mutually support, mutually serve.

In my parenting, I have learned (finally) to do things with my children and not just for them.  I’m learning to say, “I would like to do this with you and not just for you.”  That philosophy seems to honor their dignity and mine as well.

It’s the same with teaching.  It’s the same with blogging.  There’s a “withness” about this work that transforms it.  We are with each other. 

My husband reminds me that the incarnation is God “with us.”  Immanuel–God with us–represents a prepositional phrase that’s changed my life.

Living with flair means I learn the meaning of with. 

Journal:  How can I change my “for you” to “with you?”

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  1. This couldn't be more on-target, Heather. Our friends in Guatemala are always very sad when we leave and they cry when we return. They are so thankful for a shoulder to cry on, someone to pray, and to just be with one another when someone is hurting.

  2. oooo….love this! I've learned what a difference it makes when I make dinner WITH my kids, and invite them into the process rather than just for them!

  3. As Rick Warren's tweet last night goes, quote:

    “Stop working FOR God.Start working WITH him.”We are laborers together WITH God” 1 Cor.3:9″

    The same with community, nice =)

  4. I too, love how my whole attitude can be changed by how I perceive a word being used.
    This is right on. And I especially like the scripture that you used to remind us that God is with us.

    This motivates me in my attitude, which adjusts how I will be thinking about others the next time I act towards them. Am I doing something for them or with them? Depending on the situation, but when I have the opportunity to do something with, I will choose to do so much more readily.

  5. Wow, what a beautifully written post. It is one I will re-read often.

    I was especially moved by your idea about doing things with people rather than for them. You wrote, “that philosophy seems to honor their dignity as well as mine.” As someone who volunteers with special needs children, honoring dignity is very important to me. I never considered that it was also honoring mine.

    Thanks you for using your gift of writing to inspire us.

  6. I had the privilege of helping our 13-year-old daughter, who is highly gifted, but learning disabled (especially with fine motor skills), with her recent school project. The assignment did not play to her strengths–it was to create an “ABC” book about two World War 2 era books. I ended up assisting with the cutting, pasting, and handwriting tasks–all of which are very difficult for her–while she exercised her inventive mind and artistic flair to create a beautiful book. The result was (hooray!) a completed project that she was truly proud of. And we did it together.

  7. I love that. My hubby and I have been exploring the greek work used for “care” in James 1:27. It's really “visit” and the concepts we've been exploring are very similar to what you shared in your post. Thanks for bringing to light such an important differentiation in serving.

  8. This was a great post! I have never considered how profoundly different the words “for” and “with” were….

    It is interesting to think of those words in terms of Jesus on the cross. There were those who passed by, who wanted to do something “for” Him, along this those that just “wagged their heads”. However, it was the one who was dying “with” Him….the thief next to Him, who that very day went to to be with Jesus in paradise.

    Oh the difference between “for” and “with”.

  9. Love this. Reminds me of my 2 year old's constant refrain: “Help me do it myself.”. She wants me with her but not doing things for her. An essential human desire we know from the beginning of our life.