What motivates us to change? What in us can help guide us to change our attitudes, our speech, our actions, our hearts? It’s an interesting question to consider. I would guess most of us are not always pleased with what we say and do. I would further guess, we would not be all that excited to have others see a full display of our behaviors at all times.
What we think and do are motivated by some pretty deep things within us. At any one time we may be angry, sad, insulted, incensed, anxious, hurt, fearful, generous, compassionate, elated, happy, forgiving, giving, loving, comforting, and probably many more things than I can list here. We are, as human beings, filled with all sorts of emotions and feelings that resonate way down deep in us. All of these things can surface to motivate us say and do some pretty horrific or terrific things.
I don’t know about you, but there are some pretty strong motivators in my life. Fear, guilt, shame. These are the three biggies for me. All of them act on me in different ways, and with different varying degrees of success.
As a child, fear was a great motivator. I learned boundaries and how to be safe from fear. Fear of punishment or injury during my life has kept me from crossing streets without looking, running with the dreaded scissors in my hand, or touching things that are hot. Fear has motivated me to be conscious of my surroundings and to guard what I say and who I say it to. So fear has elicited change in a number of my behaviors, and because of that I have reached old age!
Guilt is one of those motivators that has worked with some initial success, but has lessened in its ability to guide changes in my behavior. Guilt is one of those motivators which parents and the Church has used throughout time to get a desired response. My mother was a master at using guilt to get me to do what she wanted. Some would call that manipulation, my mother would have called it good parenting. The problem is guilt can only motivate so far. After I was aware of the “guilt trip” I was being put on, its effect lessened significantly. Guilt was also one of those motivators the Church has used to try and elicit participation and support from its members down through the centuries. “You are a sinner, saved by Jesus’ sacrifice, therefor you should do all you can for the Church.” The problem here is, we are saved by God’s unmerited grace, which requires no good deed or action, other than acceptance.
Shame! Ah, finally we’ve gotten to one of the juiciest motivators of all. I cannot tell you the numbers of times I’ve changed my actions, my speech, my thoughts because of somehow experiencing shame over things I’ve said and done, or things I’ve allowed to be done in my presence. I’m not a particularly smart guy, but what I’m pretty clear on is right and wrong. I have a pretty good sense of what is right and wrong when I see it, hear it, participate in it. Can I tell you chapter and verse why something is right or wrong? Probably not. But I know it when I experience it. I have visceral reaction to right and wrong thoughts, words and actions. Is it ever okay to treat someone badly? Right or wrong question, and the answer being…NEVER! I don’t care who they are or what they’ve done, I have no right to treat them in a manner I wouldn’t want to be treated. This doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for actions, but it does mean I treat persons with respect, honor and dignity.
I’ve been a little long-winded today, I apologize. What I have seen recently has elicited a feeling of real disgust and shame in me. By now, I’m sure you are aware of the crisis on the border near Del Rio, Texas. Hatian migrants, by the thousands, have been crossing the border and living under a bridge. They are seeking asylum in the United States. I told you, I’m not a particularly smart guy, so I don’t have all the answers to what should be done. I do know they are fleeing a country that has had years of corrupt government, a coup has been perpetrated within the government, a devastating earthquake has occurred and the island nation is in extreme upheaval. I do know these persons are trying to find a way to survive. They are coming to the wealthiest nation on earth and in dire need they are asking to be let in. When I saw the pictures of them being chased and rounded up by agents on horseback, I was horrified and ashamed. How could we treat another human being, a person made in the image of God this way? Shame descended on me like a pile of bricks. My first thought was to get as much food and water as I possibly could into my car and drive to Del Rio to help them. Shame is motivating me to want to help, any way I can. Jesus said we are to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. My shame is telling me, how we are treating our neighbors down in Del Rio is not how we would treat God, and yet we are.
I don’t even pretend to have all the answers to this crisis. I don’t pretend the solutions are easy or even viable. I don’t pretend we can solve every problem that comes our way. But I know right from wrong, and treating people as less than, or letting them starve on our doorstep, is wrong. My shame tells me we can do better, we must do better. My shame says, when I stand before God on judgement day I’ll be called to account for how I treated those I encountered. In Matthew 25: 41-45 Jesus is laying out how it will be on judgement day. “41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’”
My shame tells me we can do better, we must do better. We have to try harder to care for the most vulnerable, that’s the right thing to do. My shame of what we see being done in our name should motivate me to be who God created me to be.
Blessings and Peace,