I ask God to give us the strength to enter into the suffering of those in my community so that they might share in the blessings I've been given.
A brief explanation: My family and I live on the semi-rural campus of the college that employs me. Our house is provided and maintained by my employer (which has its problems, of course, but in the balance we are very well taken care of), so there's a whole area of life that we don't have to devote too much time or energy worrying about. Our neighbors are, without exception, faculty, staff, and students of this small private college. There isn't a single run-down, dodgy building within sight (even though there are three different trailor parks on campus). The things my neighbors worry about (and get upset about) include finishing midterm papers and preparing for exams, whether the neighbor mows his lawn with adequate frequency, whether the teenage children of my coworkers had permission when they accessed school facilities, and (this is a particularly pressing concern at the moment) whether residents observe the posted 15 mph speed limit in the residential areas of campus.
In other words, we are very sheltered.
In the midst of all of this, my greatest fears are these. First, that we will forget that outside this sheltered enclave is a real world where people have to worry about mortgages, neighbors, the cost of keeping their homes heated, dysfunctional and abusive domestic environments, and so on. My immediate world is untouched by these concerns. And while ours is a wonderful community to raise children, the fact is that many parents — single, teenage, homeless, unemployed, abused, underemployed, or whatever — cannot provide such a safe and caring environment for their children. Every day I run the risk of thinking, subconsciously if not on purpose, that these parents must not love their children as much as my wife and I love our daughter. I cannot imagine what it must be like to want to provide for your children and not be able to. This is a blessing that the vast majority of the world's population, I would imagine, have never known.
We are an explicitly and intentionally Christian community, but there is a real danger that as a Christian community we will forget that Jesus explicitly and intentionally sought out the hurting and poor around him. The paradox is striking and terrifying: Claiming to have committed to live lives faithful to him and his teachings, our day-to-day lives risk looking nothing like his. And how does that work? How do we who claim to be (or seek to be) his disciples live lives wholly unlike his?
Second, I worry that my daughter, who was seven months old when we moved here, will grow up thinking that the rest of the world is just like this little world she knows. The longer we stay here (and we have no plans to leave at the moment), the more she will think this place is "normal." What a shallow person she will be if she doesn't know that this place, rather than the city around us, is the oddity.
But I have a plan, a plan I've had in mind since my daughter was a bundle of elbows and knees poking and prodding my wife from the inside. I'm sure my plan, by itself, isn't enough to counter the pervasive secludedness of our community. But it's a beginning, a "square one" from which we can begin to take the blessings we've been given and share them with those around us. I can't give specifics here, but I'm coming to believe that now is the time to begin taking my daughter by the hand and introducing her, in measured doses at first, to the rest of the world.
But I also have a request. You don't need to live where I live to be sheltered like I'm sheltered. In fact, if you're a Western Christian, you probably know exactly what I'm wrestling with here. So, in the comments below, I invite you to answer the question, How have you poked holes in the bubble that protects you and your family from the rest of the world? What risks have you taken to keep from isolating yourself from the chaos outside?