“Leave people better than you found them.”
(Attributed to many)
The quote above was posted on a friend’s Facebook page several weeks ago . . . and, it has been working on me ever since. Whenever out in the woods or mountains hiking or camping, the old scouting adage is to “leave the area in better shape than you found it.” I was not much of a scout . . . made it up to the Webelos (mostly by default) before I gave up on this structured setting . . . but I did learn that statement. I learned it and have always tried to live by it whenever I am out in woods or mountains enjoying God’s creation. I always make sure I clean up my mess and the mess of anyone who was before me . . . I attempt to make sure that it was left in the way that I found it, if not better than I found it. That is just common sense . . . it is just good stewardship. Thus I was taken back when I read the little twist to the old adage . . . instead of nature it refers to people.
I think that as human beings we do a fairly decent job of being good stewards of God natural creation . . . though I do think that we can do a much better job . . . but, I am not sure we even attempt to be good stewards of our fellow human creations when it comes to stewardship. I don’t think that we are too good at remembering that we should “leave people better than we found them.” In looking around the world in which we live . . . witnessing the violence perpetuated against one and other . . . seeing the blatant discrimination and prejudice . . . watching the war that is being waged . . . seeing the hungry who are starving . . . catching glimpses of the “warehousing” of people in society (and this is not a reference only to the prison systems of the world) . . . pushing and leaving others further and further from the so-called acceptable of society . . . I think it is difficult to admit that as humans we are not the best stewards of the human creations of God. None of us has to look too hard to find this truth as we only have to watch the evening news on television or read the latest edition of the newspaper . . . we are inundated with the evidence that we are poor stewards of God’s human creations.
Which is sad.
Sad because we are called to love our neighbors . . . to love our fellow human creations . . . as we love ourselves. I would wager that all the major religions tell us this. I would wager that even those who do not believe in God aspire to this. I would wager that it is just common sense and good moral living . . . it is the “golden rule”. Yet, we have a difficult time in doing this. We are not good at leaving others better than we found them despite the fact that the root of love is to make the “other” better . . . to want the best for the “other” . . . to grow and become who they were created to be . . . to become “whole” and “holy”. We want it for ourselves, so why wouldn’t we want it for others . . . especially those we say we love. Yet, the witness of the world in which we live says that we are a long, long, long way from that idea of stewardship . . . stewardship of the soul.
It is also sad because we all do it . . . all of us.
Though I am a follower of Jesus, which in the eyes of many makes me a “Christian”, I believe that all the major religions and belief systems begin in the same place . . . we begin with ourselves. We are to learn to love ourselves . . . to love ourselves as God created us . . . to embrace that creation in relationship with the God who created us . . . to discover—through God’s eyes—who we are. Before we can ever love anyone else we must learn to love ourselves. From there we love others. Thus it was that Jesus stated that we are to “love one another as we love ourselves.” As I have said many times before, looking at the world around us, there are not too many people who seem to love themselves. If this is the case, well then, it is difficult to be good stewards of others in our lives . . . and, that is sad.
We are not good stewards of souls . . . probably ours or others. Think of life as a journey or a hike. We move along whatever trail it is that we are tramping down and as we go along we encounter others . . . sort of like natural sites along the way. Are these “obstacles” or “opportunities” . . . that is the question and dilemma before us on our journey. For various reasons—some good, some bad, I think that for most of us we view them as “obstacles” or at least “bumps in the road” that slow us down. In life, as in the journey, we just barrel our way through such things in order to get to wherever it is that we are going . . . we leave them in our wake . . . never realizing the impact we have had on the life of another. We are not good with others unless they are within our inner circle.
In our lives there are concentric circles of relationships. In the center stands us. Radiating out from us are the circles of relationships we have in our lives. The first circle is for those we are the closest . . . spouses, children, grandchildren, parents. In the next circle are those who we love, but are not as close to . . . other relatives, friends. In the next circle are those we work with; the next acquaintances; the next people we know, but don’t know; and, in the last strangers. As the circles spin outward from our center we spend less and less time and energy on those who occupy them. We do this to the point that those within the last circle do not even cross our consciousness unless pointed out by another.
Each and every individual in those circles has the same basic need . . . they want to be acknowledged and loved . . . they want to be seen and accepted . . . they want to be a part of the “family”. We all know this. Yet, research has shown that the farther that circle of relationship spins the less we “acknowledge” or “love”. Thus the further out the circle spins the lousier we are at leaving people better than we found them. I don’t think that any of us wants to be lousy at the care of other’s souls. I don’t think any of us wants to experience it either. Yet, we all have experienced it . . . and, we have all been guilty of it.
So how do we “solve” this problem? How do we become better stewards of the soul . . . especially the souls of others?
One of my favorite words is “hineni” from the Hebrew language. “Hineni” simply means, “I am here.” These were the words that Abraham and Moses said in the presence of God—“here I am.” It is to make one’s self present in the presence of another . . . to set aside all the barriers and obstacles that keep one from being fully in the presence of another . . . it is to acknowledge the other and to make one’s self available—body, mind, and soul—to another. It is to be “present”. It is to be still and know.
There is the catch . . . to be still. We are on a journey. We have places to go . . . things to do . . . and, maybe even people to see (but apparently not the majority of people we encounter). We are a busy people. We are a distracted people. We are a selfish people. It is hard to be still, and even harder to be still in the presence of another. Besides, it is difficult to hit a moving target; thus God tells us to be still and know.
The stewardship of the soul begins with us as individuals. We be still and know who we are in relationship to ourselves, to God, and to others. We learn to love who we have been created to be. We learn to love our relationship with God. From there we move outward into the world to share this great love with others . . . but, it can only happen if we can be still and know others where they stand. It is a courtesy that comes out of respect that we owe to all people we encounter on the journey we call life—we are to be still and know them. We are to practice “hineni”. It is there that we have the opportunity to leave people better than we found them. It is there we begin to practice the stewardship of souls.
“To leave people better than we found them.”
I think it is the goal of life . . . the challenge of living a good life . . . something that we all need to work on. It begins where we are . . . always where we are . . . and, it radiates out from there. It is the least we owe one another if we are ever going to make the world a better place for others.