Used People

I wonder if Jesus felt used?

The accounts in the Gospels share that people quite often wanted something from him - healing, teaching, an argument, their own expectations met. They also reveal that Jesus would escape the crowds for private time to get away. All that demand on one person, even if that one person is fully human and fully divine, has to have a high cost. So yes, I wonder if he felt used?

Because we humans have a tendency to use people, their skills, gifts, even their presence, to meet our needs. Hopefully we're aware and honest when we are utilizing another, and we've negotiated that relationship so that we aren't the one always taking and never giving. And if we are the ones being used, we're aware of that, too, and we've created some boundaries so the using doesn't become detrimental to our selves and souls. But we are human, and we do many things to hurt others and ourselves.

Offering ourselves to be used by others in need seems to be an unwritten part of the job description of clergy, at least as some people understand the vocation. One of the oft heard quotations about vocation goes something like vocation is that place where one's skills meet the great needs of the world. It's a lovely sentiment, but it has hints of offering ourselves to be used. This capacity to be used invites us to get really aware of those boundaries within ourselves. When does offering ourselves to others in need cross the line between an offering and being used?

Here's the thing - being used is not the same as offering our gifts for those in need. The latter, I think, is what vocation is, when we offer our skills, gifts, even our selves and souls for those who are in need aware that we are doing so and aware of our own limits. For example, many churches open their doors to people in grief who have nowhere else to go, and we (hopefully) welcome them in that place, giving them space to be sad and lost. They may never return, never even say, "Thank you." And in many ways, that's okay. Because they needed a place to be, perhaps even to heal, and if we are capable of offering that space and our time in an appropriate way, then we've been part of an offering.

Being used? That's slightly different. The gifts, the presence, maybe the friendship we've offered becomes turned and twisted. Our actions, our gifts, whatever we bring - these become the carrot that if we behave, act, or deliver in a certain way, the other person will grace us with his or her presence. Our investment in these relationships is almost never equal.  Most of us can recall that person who only calls us only when he/she needs something. And we may, in our deep honesty, recognize that person we call only when we need something.

The hard truth is that we all use others. And we have all been used. It's not one of humanity's better traits. I'm not a fan of feeling used, honestly. I'm getting better at recognizing the signs that a particular friendship or relationship has crossed the boundary into using, but it's still a process.

We also use God. Think about the number of times we - and even clergy do this - go along our merry way when life is smooth, letting our prayer lives slack, being less than faithless about worship, and ignoring the grace of God, but the minute tragedy invades our otherwise calm world, we suddenly come knocking at God's door as if we are the most amazing people of faith...ever.

"Hey, I've been meaning to pray, but you know how busy I am. But here's the suddenly got really hard, and if you'll help me out, God. If you do, I'll be a better follower."

We're in good company. A cursory reading of Holy Scripture shows us that this is a pattern for the children of God. And amazingly, God is there, listening, caring, being present in our faith and in our faithlessness. Because that's how God loves us.

We, however, are not God. Yes, we are commanded to love as God loves us, but that's a remarkably high bar that we strive to meet and fail with regularity. And so we continue to use and consume others as if they are commodities instead of souls with feelings.

When I realize I have invested my energy and emotion in a person who was using me, my logical friends will tell me, "Well, if people do that they weren't really friends in the first place." Or members of the church (yes, people do use church communities) or whatever I thought the relationship was. But my soul is still bruised when I realize to some people, I am disposable if I can't provide the fee they set to allow me to be in their lives. I am disposable if I can't meet their needs or expectations, regardless of how damaging meeting those needs may be to me personally. I am disposable if I say I don't want to be used.

And I suspect we all feel this hurt when we realize we've been used.

Perhaps this Lent, we can become attentive to what we expect in our relationships, how we are invested in our communities, and what we ask of the other in our relationships. Do we show up only when we need something - from God, from certain communities, or from friends and family? Have we cultivated a relationship because of what we think we can get from that person or do we honor the gifts we share with each other? And do we allow others to use us in ways that feel hurtful? If so, what might happen if we stopped the using?


Fr. Joseph Lody said…
I just stumbled on your blog, and I have to admit the title is what drew me in. Your post, I think the most recent, "Used People," is among the most well written and honestly intimate that I have come across in a long, long, time. Possibly because I can relate so well to it. Thank you. Even the simple reminder of something we all already know, that we are not alone, can make a moment very special.

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