Christians are full of good intentions. Especially when we are young (physically or spiritually) we want to run out and help all those “lost” people. Well, in this process we tend to find out that helping people is not as simple as it sounds. The sad part, is that many people become cynical as they struggle to make a difference. Often they end up feeling like helping others is pointless. So in the hopes of being helpful to some future do-gooders, here is a list of simple mistakes to avoid. I hope you will share this with any fledgling do-gooders you might know. :)
Mistake #1. Thinking we have all the answers.
Probably the biggest mistake right off the bat. For those of us doing OK in life, it may feel like we got here by doing all the right things. Therefore, we conclude that if people just do what we do, everything would be fine. Wrong. Everyone comes from a different place, different circumstances, and different challenges. So if you don’t want to be another voice of doubt and shame in their life then listen before you speak, understand before you advise, and encourage before you correct.
Mistake #2: Demanding that people "trust us" in directive instead of in relationship.
To many times we want people to “trust us” when we give them advice. However, our advice is not the thing by which people need to build trust. What people need to be able to trust is YOU. Will you be there for them when they mess up or don’t meet your expectations? Will you be there for them when it is hard? Will you stand by them when others are against them? These are the real trust issues. If you are a trustworthy friend, then you will be a trusted advisor.
Alternative: Be a reliable friend first.
Mistake #3: Wanting to help people logistically instead of emotionally.
Many of us are problem-solvers. It is our instinct to try and “fix” people or their circumstances. It is true that sometimes people need very practical help, like food or shelter. But in the long run, what we all really need to get through hard times is emotional support. Human beings can endure so much hardship, but so little loneliness.
Alternative: Don’t “fix,” encourage and endure.
Mistake #4: Wanting to solve big problems instead of small ones
Similar to #3, we often want to solve an entire situation rather than invest in fixing small problems. Small problems are often the ones that add up to make a person's life better. You can’t fix a single mother’s life overnight, but you can help her watch her children. You can’t reverse an unjust sentence, but you can visit a person in prison. You can’t cure depression, but you can show someone you are thinking about them. When we obsess over a big situation we miss small opportunities.
Alternative: Check your ego, look for immediate and obvious ways to show love.
Mistake #5: Thinking that our own lives are of our own credit.
Similar to #1, those who are wealthy, having money enough for all their needs, are most likely to think their life is completely of their own virtue. It takes time for people to open their eyes to the privileges they may have from society, race, class, and family. Ironically, these people will be the first to assume God is punishing them when life gets hard. The truth is that the rain falls on the just and unjust alike. If you don’t take account of your privileges, and assume your life is all of your own accomplishments, you will be too arrogant to help or understand anyone.
Alternative: Be radically thankful!