How can we reach out to others --- the hungry, the stranger, the prisoner and more -- when our daily concerns have us feeling tapped out?
There is no getting around the fact that Jesus expects us to help those in need.
He makes Himself very clear:
“I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
What happens to those who don’t give him food or drink, a warm welcome, clothing, a caring touch or friendly visit? Something that includes wailing and gnashing their teeth.
But despite this to-the-point teaching from Jesus, I have often found it difficult to answer the call.
When I was single and had time on my hands to help those in need, I was also self-absorbed and more concerned with having a good time than walking alongside my brother and sister. Now that I’m better prepared to reach out and help alleviate the suffering of those around me, I feel like I haven’t got a minute to spare. Between work, homework, and bedtime routines, I’m barely able to make it to the end of the day without collapsing onto the couch.
And while family life helps parents answer Jesus’ call in a certain sense (we spend most of our time feeding, clothing, and caring), I’m fairly sure Jesus is looking for us to push beyond our comfort zone — beyond expecting salvation thanks to changing a whole mess of dirty diapers and sweeping up crushed Goldfish.
So how can we go about living Christ’s call? Well, we can start with what we say, what we do, and what we pray.
Speak openly about the injustices in the world
And I’m not talking about statements like, “Eat that broccoli because there are hungry people who would gladly finish it,” but actually being willing to openly discuss the fact that unjust suffering exists all around the world, from distant far-off countries to our very neighborhoods.
People are killed in wars they would give anything to stop, left starving in countries where leftovers are routinely thrown away without a second thought, and are left to sleep on the streets despite their best efforts to obtain employment and a place to live.
We need to keep these realities present in our minds and in the minds of our children to help cultivate an understanding of the need to help our brothers and sisters and start to change our throwaway culture for the sake of the common good.
That means we have to work to be aware of what’s going on in the world, and help our kids to be aware too.
Work together to give away possessions
We live in a culture obsessed with possessions. We feel we need the latest internet-ready technology in our hand, the most innovative mode of transportation to get us around, and enough clothes and accessories to dress a small village.
It’s one thing to pack up a box of items we no longer need to ship them to the local St. Vincent de Paul. Giving away torn up jeans, purses that have since been replaced, and old stereos we no longer need is a piece of cake.
Instead, we need to take true stock of what we have, make a plan that helps guide what we actually need, and push ourselves to give what we have to those who don’t have enough.
And don’t just push your children to part with their unused toys and stuffed animals, but make a true effort to push yourself to do more, and make yourself an example of what it means to radically live out the teachings of Jesus.
Pray for those facing poverty, war, and devastation
Getting into the routine of praying with the entire family is a great accomplishment, but taking the time to examine what and who we’re praying for can make all the difference. We have to make sure our children understand that there are so many in desperate need of our prayers. While it’s important to ask for God’s blessings on ourselves, our family, and our friends, we need to reach out to God for those we don’t know, but who are part of our human family.
All the homeless we may never meet, all the refugees struggling to find safety, all those devastated and left with nothing after a natural disaster — remembering our brothers and sisters in need from around the world will foster a correct understanding in our children of our responsibilities toward all the members of the Body of Christ as well as the fact that our prayers really do help.
It can seem like an impossible task for any of us to meet the expectations Jesus laid out plainly in Matthew 25:35, especially those of us barely keeping our heads above water with the demands of family life. But if we can take time to focus on our thoughts, words, actions, and prayers, we can leave a mark on those around us, our children, and hopefully the entire world.