Plod on, brother. Plod on.

I have written about this story several times, but my blog post about it got lost in the website redesign. Because it is so important to me, I am republishing it here. – HH 

It was January of 2008. I had been doing this work for about five months or so, and I was already burnt out. I had no money. None. I was surrounded and overwhelmed by the immense amount of need I was confronted with daily. There was nothing I could do to fix any of it.

Most days, my response was to weep.

I was sinking, and fast. I had only been in Raleigh a short time and had no real network of friends or relationships. There was no one I could talk to about my work or my despair – at least, no one who had also experienced it.

There were several people whose writing had inspired me to do this work, so I figured that maybe, just maybe, they knew what I was feeling. I wrote a couple of emails, asking for help. Only one of them replied.

But his email saved my life, or at the very least, made the life I have now possible.

From his email:

I hope you are able to pace yourself and develop enough of an outside life to sustain you over a long ministry in one place. The real fruit of this stuff doesn’t start to appear for years, and too often people burn themselves out early trying to prove how committed they are. Take days off. Keep your own living area sane and comfortable. Establish boundaries. Read good books about stuff other than the inner city. Exercise.  Eat as healthy as you can. Remember, the people you are working with mostly don’t change that much, so ministering to them isn’t about ‘getting things done’ but rather accompanying people on their hard journeys, and that is an endurance sport that favors the plodder.

So plod on.

The writer was Bart Campolo, a former inner-city youth minister with a famous dad and no illusions about the difficulty of this work. And he is one of the people most responsible for my ability to continue this work.

Because his response meant so much to me, I tear up a bit when I get similar emails now from fellow pot-stirrers and justice workers. They read something I wrote once that makes them think I would understand, so they write me. The emails that say, “I am doing similar work to you, but I am struggling because no one understands the work I am doing, and no one is changing.”

Because Bart’s email meant so much to me, I almost always respond to those emails when I receive them. And like Bart’s email to me, my advice is seldom what they are looking for, but most often what they need.

I ask questions like, “Who is your team? Who are you talking about this stuff with? What do you do to enjoy yourself? Do you want to do this in 10 years? When was the last time you saw the sunset? Who does this with you? What books are you reading that have nothing to do with this work?

They want me to tell them the magic words to fix the relationships they have with people who are desperately poor, or to show them the strategy that will make bitter, jaded people have hope, or the way to get their church to embrace people who live outside. Instead, I want to tell them how to live.

Because if you want to do this work long term, you have to learn how to live. You need to immerse yourself in beautiful things. You need to learn boundaries. You need to have friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with your work, and you need friends who do the work with you.

Most importantly, you have to realize that loving people is a team sport, and that whatever positive outcome you will see as a result of that loving takes years to measure. It is, like Bart said, an endurance sport best suited to the plodder.

So plod on.

Nobody has a right to all of you.

no shopping!
I recently changed the way I use Facebook. I deleted my personal account that had several thousand “friends”- most of whom I never knew in real life – and started over, this time only friending people I knew, liked and had spent time with.

I also made the decision to not friend people I like, but who primarily use social media for work announcements – I will use other ways to stay in touch with them.

My friends list went from nearly 3,000 to less than 300, and is much more manageable. Most people have been understanding.

But not everyone.

Someone unsubscribed from my newsletter the other day. When you unsubscribe, you are given the option to say why. Here is what he wrote in the box:

I had thought that we were friends until your Facebook friending showed that you do not reciprocate. I wish you well.

So many layers in just 21 words.

I could spend hours talking about the ways in which Social Media deludes us into the appearance of connection without the reality of it.

But the bigger point I want to make is this:

Nobody has a right to all of you.

I share a lot of my life and thoughts on Social Media. I have an Instagram account, open to the public. I have a Twitter feed, open to the public. I have a professional Facebook page, open to the public. I have a newsletter that goes out every week where I share very personal things.

All of that is open to him, but because he did not have access to this one part of my life I choose to reserve for people I am in actual relationship with, he got mad.

Nope, nope, nope.

You have a right to boundaries, a right to decide how much of you is available, to decide how much of your life, your time, your story, your pictures, your memories you wish to put out into the world. You get to decide how much of your life you want to share with people, and you get to decide that on a person by person and event by event, basis.

And if people do not understand that or respect that, then you get to decide they should not be in your life at all.

You teach people how to be in relationship with you

I Need You to Call Me
A couple of weeks ago I met a man in the course of my work. We sort of hit it off, and I gave him my business card, which contains my cell phone number.

Two nights later, at 11:00PM, he sent me a text, asking me a question.

It wasn’t an important text, he wasn’t in danger, and there was no compelling reason for the message to be answered in the middle of the night.

On the other hand, I was wide awake, reading a book. I could easily have answered the question and went back to reading. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a big deal.

But I didn’t. I ignored the text message. Because if I answer it, I just taught him that it is totally reasonable to send me a casual text after 9:00PM and expect to get a response.

And I don’t think it is. I don’t want people to send me late-night texts. I don’t want that expectation out there in my relationships.

You have to teach people how to be in relationship with you. Every single interaction with someone else sets the norm about how we expect them to treat us. And it is important to be conscious about it, because once you taught them how you expect to be treated, it is hard to expect them to treat you differently than that.

I agree with Jesus that we should treat other people the way we wish to be treated. But we also have an obligation to tell them how to treat us, too.