"For" and "with"

I often make the point whilst we have responsibility to people (to care, to love, to support, to nurture) we are not responsible for them (especially at the end of the day their decisions).  This essay by Samuel Wells takes this further:

The word that sums up the spirit of Christianity, is “for.” We cook “for,” we buy presents “for,” we offer charity “for,” all to say we lay ourselves down “for.”

But is there a problem here. All these gestures are generous, and kind, and in some cases sacrificial and noble. They are good gestures, warm-hearted, admirable gestures. But somehow they don’t go to the heart of the problem. You give your father the gift, and the chasm still lies between you. You wear yourself out in showing hospitality, but you have never actually had the conversation with your loved ones. You make fine gestures of charity, but the poor are still strangers to you. “For” is a fine word, but it does not dismantle resentment, it does not overcome misunderstanding, it does not deal with alienation, it does not overcome isolation.

What are we to do? After examining how God is "with" us, rather than doing things "for" us, Samuel Wells suggests that we shift mission and service from "for" to "with." What overcomes isolation is being "with" others. And being "with" rather than doing "for" radically alters what Christian mission should look like. This makes "with," in Wells’ opinion, the most important word in the Bible:

We have stumbled upon the most important word in the Bible—the word that describes the heart of God and the nature of God’s purpose and destiny for us. And that word is “with.” That is what God was in the very beginning; that is what God sought to instil in the creation of all things, that is what God was looking for in making the covenant with Israel, that is what God coming among us in Jesus was all about, that is what the sending of the Holy Spirit meant, that is what our destiny in the company of God will look like. It is all in that little word “with.” God’s whole life and action and purpose are shaped to be “with” us.

In a lot of ways, “with” is harder than “for.” You can do “for” without a conversation, without a real relationship, without a genuine shaping of your life to accommodate and incorporate the other…What makes attempts at Christmas charity seem a little hollow is not that they are not genuine and helpful and kind but that what isolated and grieving and impoverished people usually need is not gifts or money but the faithful presence with them of someone who really cares about them as a person. It is the “with” they desperately want, and the “for” on its own (whether it is food, presents, or money) cannot make up for the lack of that “with.”

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