Saturday, November 21, 2009

Help? Part III

So the other day, I was feeling very stressed out by a project on which I was working very hard, and with very little assistance from anyone else. I'm not officially connected to the project, but the staff who is employed specifically to work on that project seemed happy to let me do whatever I could. Some of it they didn't know how to do, fair enough. But other components they definitely could have contributed. But we were on a deadline so, frustrated though I was, hard hard I worked.

Meanwhile, this project had a budget problem: it had overbudgeted for the activity I was working on. Whatever wasn't spent would either be returned to the donor, or else be used for more community activities (see yesterday's post for why I thought that might be a bad idea).

So all things considered, it seemed prudent to ask my NGO to transfer me to the nicest hotel in that particular town. (By Western standards, still barely worth 3 stars, but it's an icon in that particular location, and is in fact quite lovely.) They were very willing to do so.

One evening, I was exhausted, but work ended at a reasonable hour due to a cancellation. So I called up a friend to come over and go for a walk together. She had never been in the posh hotel before, even though she lives very close by, and so she was curious to see my room and the location.

We went for our walk, which was lovely, then came back to my room to drink some water. I was so tired from the busy day at work followed by an invigorating walk, that I asked her if I could take her home immediately. I was concerned I wouldn't have enough energy to take her later. She too was tired from the walk, so I took her home to sleep and then returned to my room alone.

But I felt a bit sad. I would love to share the relative wealth of this hotel with my friend. This would be a nice thing to do. I could take her to the restaurant, who knows even have her spend the night. But I was too tired from work to do any of this!

Isn't there something wrong with the world when we're supposed to be helping others through our work but feel we aren't - then because of our work we find we don't have any inner resources left to share with our friends?

Addendum: Just to clarify, this isn't a shout-out for help because I'm stressed out. It's meant to be understood in the context of my two recent blogs in which I point out the various reasons why I don't feel I'm helping anyone with my job in humanitarian aid (i.e. helping people). - It's not about knowing my limits, it's about keeping my priorities straight. And figuring out how to do that when I've already accepted the job handing out coins on a street corner.


mk said...

these are all really challenging thoughts, and get to the heart of what it means to be the Church in our fallen world. I would say err on the side of generosity, knowing that you may never see the results of the hard work you do. A sermon I heard was about something similar--the coin to a homeless person idea. They said God lavishes his gifts on us, even the priceless blood of his son, and we turn around and abuse and waste those gifts in our ignorance. That doesn't keep God from continuing to spend prodigally on us, though it is a foolish thing to do! On the one hand, we do need to be wise about funding good programs and channeling most of the charity into places that work, but Jesus does say to give to everyone in need, and doesn't say "only give if you're sure they will use it for good." Paul also talks about people spreading the gospel with impure motives, and that he doesn't really mind as long as the gospel is spread. I don't know if that's helpful at all, as it is frustrating to just keep putting money in a seemingly bottomless hole and seeing virtually nothing in the way of results. God does that with us, needy and desperate for grace and barely understanding what we're given. I pray for discernment and encouragement as you do this work!

Anonymous said...

Hey Katie, it sounds like you have some tough pre-existing situations that you have stepped into with fresh ideas that might not be welcome or understood. Years ago i Bolivia I was told, "there is no rule that says you always have to act consistently". I applied that to my then development work with rural farmers. You are right in letting your heart lead you, but don't let your dear heart get too exhausted that you can't look on a situation with the compassion of Him who called you.

daz said...

On a much smaller scale - For years, I've struggled with how to most faithfully love an alcoholic parent. I've vacillated between a more "tough love" approach, where I have withheld help, and one which I call sappy love, where I've helped without honest communication about the effects of her alcoholism on herself and others. The Lord has brought me - slowly, painfully and faithfully- to a good place, in which I am not withholding any necessary help or affection, and I am being lovingly, graciously and consistently honest with my mom. I've also become a much more fervent pray-er as a result of my helplessness. The result? It's like a favorite song of mine, "It's your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance." Her heart has softened, she has begun to exhibit a repentant heart, and she is seeking to find out what pleases the Lord. It's a Jesus thing, I think, seeking to be full of grace and truth. And it's miraculous in its effect on others.
I pray he would translate this to your situation, that you would be encouraged to press on with his faithfulness in view.

Katharine said...

Mmm, I like the Lamp's comment about not always having to act consistently, especially since development is so highly contextualized.

I have some thoughts regarding personal energy management. While you've done development gigs in the past, this is the most structured and largest organization for which you've worked. So while the general type of work might be similar, it's still a fairly new area for you. It also seems like this culture is harder to decode than other's you've experienced.

Work-life balance is definitely important, but I think you have to allow yourself a substantially lengthy time to attain that balance when starting in a new job (or new region, etc.). One makes a large up-front investment (i.e. energy) when acclimating to new organizations or regions. That sometimes results in a skewed work/life balance and one ends up not living out his or her life priorities.

If that's a short term skew, I think that's OK. If you find yourself a long time into a job (I guess "long time" is somewhat relative) and still find yourself off balance, then you have to reassess things.

With all the R&R NGO workers get, I wonder if most NGO's expect workers to skew their lives to the work side, then skew it to the personal life side through vacation and R&R. Is that a prevalent attitude in the development world? If so, and if that's the world in which you want to work, you probably ought to sit down and think through where you draw your personal lines within that system....or if you want to participate in that system at all.

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