Change Yourself to Change the World
The world needs help, but before we can save the world we have to help ourselves. Here are some ideas for building a more connected life.
In Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World (Westminster John Knox, 2020), Kathy Escobar, cofounder and pastor of the North Denver Christian mission The Refuge, speaks to those who want to create a life filled with love, justice, and mercy towards others. She reminds gentle readers that before we can change the world, we need to transform ourselves. By learning how to heal, listen, love, include, equalize, advocate, morn, fail, and celebrate, Escobar believes we can learn to live lives that are more interconnected to others.
Escobar describes the practice of healing as “acknowledging our humanness and also being willing to develop better ways of moving in the world.” Healing starts by getting in touch with ourselves. Once we are able to just “be” with ourselves, then we can walk with those in pain and let them know they are not alone.
This simple practice can be summed up in the phrase “less ears, more mouth.” As we sit and listen, Escobar asks us to pay particular attention to those whose voices haven’t been heard and are missing in this conversation. Those are the voices who need to be speaking right now.
Real love is learning to move from the need for us to feel like we’re heroes by doing what we think others need and learn how to simply be with people. But before we can be this loving presence, we need to learn how to give ourselves the same love we extend to others.
In Escobar’s work, she notes that while many want to welcome people into their circles, these welcomes come with certain conditions that limit who can be at the table. “Inclusion is about fully open tables and hearts where there is only us, unconditionally, period.” She encourages people to once again ask who is not present at the table and what barriers prevent them from being truly included?
According to Escobar, equalizing is one of the most core practices in a transformational life. In equalizing, we move beyond making sure everyone is included to recognizing and working to shift disparate power for underempowered groups. We can start the process of equalizing by examining our own power and privilege and living with that discomfort. As Escobar reflects, “At the core of equalizing is the belief that every human has equal, full, unequivocal dignity and worth alongside every other human.”
Too often advocating can be seen as actions we do on behalf of others. Here Escobar notes flipping that model to a more incarnational approach. In this model we learn to live alongside others in reciprocal relationships where we all give and we all receive. “We all need an advocate, and we can all be one.”
During times of loss and sorrow, Escobar suggests we can embody a better way to grieve by learning how to honor our own losses and hold others’ losses as well. “Letting ourselves and others go there is vulnerable and risky, but it is what will open us up to true healing and change; it is also what will connect us to others.”
A core piece of the practice of failing is embracing our humanity. “Owning it, leaning into it, wearing it, and remembering we are in good company with a whole bunch.” A loss can make us feel like we faltered. But this process can also teach us there is no such thing as “failing” but only opportunities to continue to grow by smashing shame and cultivating resilience.
Meaningful soul care is about making sure we are tending to the deepest parts of our experience. We can get to this place by building a rhythm of rest that participates with the natural cadences of life.
We can easily become so focused on what isn’t that we forget the good that is. But try to remember that every positive movement in the human experience is worth celebrating.
Finally, Escobar reminds us these changes take time, and we might not see the full fruit of our labors for a decade. But once we begin to implement these changes, hopefully we can taste some of the fruit now. “Our lives will feel more connected and integrated, our hearts more engaged, our hands and feet more active in loving and living in ways that make a difference.”