Playing favorites and the work of Charity

I talked recently with a friend about the tendency to play favorites with people. This is especially easy to see when you work in youth ministry. There's kids that you just click well with, kids you bond with faster than others. And then there's the kids that you don't bond with, sometimes even the ones that might grate a little bit on you, push your buttons, even. I suppose we very often experience this with our peers in age as well. But, very often, we make a point to surround ourselves with those who don't grate, for obvious reasons. Working with youth, however, forces you outside those packs that you would normally make a point to run with, and it provides more opportunities for the experience of favoritism.

Aside from youth ministry altogether, the church does a wonderful job in forcing the individual to face this issue. I've heard it said that a church is a group of people, thrown together, who if not for the reason of Christ, would likely have never chosen to get to know any of the rest of the group on their own volition. I mar the way I first heard it put, but hopefully I convey the idea. There's people in my church who I would, outside of it, never actively have chosen to associate with.

All this serves to portray me as quite the horrible person. And, while I don't contend to be all well and good, I don't believe that such feelings are not in fact evil.

Consider Lewis from his chapter on Charity:

I pointed out in the chapter on Forgiveness that our love for ourselves does not mean that we like ourselves. It means that we wish our own good. In the same way Christian Love (or Charity) for our neighbours is quite a different thing from liking or affection. We "like" or are "fond of" some people, and not of others. It is important to understand that this natural "liking" is neither a sin or a virtue, any more than your likes and dislikes in food are a sin or a virtue. It is just a fact. But, of course, what we do about it is either sinful or virtuous.

Natural liking or affection for people makes it easier to be "charitable" towards them. It is, therefore, normally a duty to encourage our affections - to "like" people as much as we can (just as it is often our duty to encourage our liking for exercise or wholesome food) - not because this liking is itself the virtue of charity, but because it is a help to it. On the other hand, it is also necessary to keep a very sharp look-out for fear our liking for some one person makes us uncharitable, or even unfair, to someone else. There are even cases where our liking conflicts with our charity towards the person we like. For example, a doting mother may be tempted by natural affection to "spoil" her child; that is, to gratify her own affectionate impulses at the expense of the child's real happiness later on.

But though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are "cold" by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin than having a bad digestion is a sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you "love" your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less. There is, indeed, one exception. If you do him a good turn, not to please God and obey the law of charity, but to show him what a fine forgiving chap you are, and to put him in your debt, and then sit down to wait for his "gratitude," you will probably be disappointed. (People are not fools: they have a very quick eye for anything like showing off, or patronage.) But whenever we do good to another self, just because it is a self, made (like us) by God, and desiring its own happiness as we desire ours, we shall have learned to love it a little more, or, at least, to dislike it less.

Consequently, though Christian charity sounds a very cold thing to people whose heads are full of sentimentality, and though it is quite distinct from affection, yet it leads to affection. The difference between a Christian and a worldly man is not that the worldly man has only affections or "likings" and the Christian has only "charity." The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he "likes" them: the Christian man, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on - including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.

We're called to work at this, just as we are called to work on so many things. I often metaphorically view my life as a small boat in the middle of the ocean. There's large waves all around, and I'm tasked to row up the daunting face of each one. I am convicted of sins of pride, and I row the face of that wave with vigor. I may feel that, by grace, I've made some progress. But as I see over the wave, I see not the horizon, but the next wave. Selfishness must be rowed against. Then anger. Then lack of Christian charity. And who knows what the next wave will be. And all this time, not for a second should I be so blithe as to think the pride wave has been soundly defeated, he's often the next wave waiting in the wings. As are all the rest. In fact, I have good reason to believe that I will not very likely face all of the various temptations to sin that the Devil offers humanity, but I will rather face many of the same ones over and over again.

I'm finishing my recent read-through of the Old Testament, and every time I read it, from front to back, it is a story of people turning away from God. Again and again and again. To the point that you want to scream "How ignorant could these people possibly be? How could they not learn???" And then I realize that there's a reason God is telling me the fullness of their story.

At the end of the day, though, life isn't about work. This life, this temporary existence, involves much of it, and we are called to do it well, to God's glory. But life, in its fullest definition, is something already accomplished. Its about a work that already was done. This is the source we have for finding our temporal work even at all doable, reasonable, or worthwhile. Be it our work in the sense of our vocations, or our work in the sense of striving to be more like Christ (and both are intertwined, as well) - our work is a joyful response to the completed work.

We row with a smile.

1 comment:

witw said...

Rock solid again. As I read your blog, I keep thinking I should dig up some of my C.S. Lewis books and have another crack at them. I think I may have a little reading time this weekend and actually do it!