I got something really big, really wrong this year.
It came out of a sincere desire to make a difference and what I thought was an ingenious invention. I love to leverage the offerings of concerned citizens (donors, activists, front lines service providers) to meet needs and fill gaps. For years, I have galvanized our community to respond to human trafficking. It has been a joy to watch good people come together to make good things happen.
But I am still learning.
I am no stranger to the shift in ministry philosophy. Popular books such as Toxic Charity and When Helping Hurts merely augmented my graduate studies in International Community Development, the core value being participant-centered. And yet, this year I moved forward on a project to help survivors of trafficking without asking survivors what they thought. In doing so, I created something that at best triggered some, and at worst, put others in harm’s way.
The problem surfaced in a survivor’s network discussion and was then brought to me in such a humble manner. My survivor friend handled it with curiosity, without judgment or assumption of malintent. We had built our relationship on mutual respect and she honored me in as many ways as I had dishonored her.
But I was deeply saddened by my own actions. How had I failed to come alongside those I hope to serve? I did not ask. I did not listen. And while I self-corrected quickly (thankfully, there is some maturity that age and experience have yielded!), I still caused harm. I caused harm.
Why does it feel easier to me to embrace a global sisterhood than cross cultures with sisters in my own community? After living overseas and volunteering with international organizations, I would never presume to know what works best in other countries. I long to empower the work of female leaders and join them in their vision for social and spiritual change.
But that does not come naturally for me with women who have different backgrounds, ethnicity, and cultural norms that I live near, work with, and worship alongside. I tend to presume. I don’t ask. I do harm.
But I am still learning.
I am seeing that to truly learn, we must lean into one another. We must lay aside our ingenious ideas and pause, with curiosity, to hear another’s heart. It is an act of sacrifice, but not one to begrudge. Not one done with resistance. Rather, it is an intentional gift we give, modeled after Jesus’ own humble sacrifice.
In my book, A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Mother-Daughter Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living (Faithwords, January, 2018), I write, “The question for most women is not Do you sacrifice?, but rather when you sacrifice, Are you maintaining your voice? We lay down our lives daily, willingly or not. But when we humble ourselves to another, we must do so in a manner that preserves our voice, that is, our sense of self in its fullness. The resolve with which we act, offer, serve, reserve, decline, and so forth. It stems from a reservoir of character and conviction.”
Was I willing to engage my survivor friend around this problem I had created? We had differing ideas. We both spoke confidently out of conviction, but ultimately, I chose to yield my opinion to hers. I trusted her experience over my own. Yet, I noticed a marked difference in my spirit from how I might have felt in the same situation a few years prior.
A few years ago, my ego would have been bruised. I probably would have felt shame that I had failed to get something right. In all likelihood, I might have avoided this friend for some time, tucking my tail between my legs.
This time, because of a reservoir of character and conviction, I sacrificed my idea without it touching my sense of self. I had learned that “sacrifice is a movement of intentional strength to yield life.” It yielded life in our friendship, in other survivors, and in my own spirit.
“Women sacrifice” is one of the 5 categories I taught my daughter in our yearlong journey, chronicled in my book. I long for women to invite the next generation of girls into a process of becoming more of who God intended them to be, learning alongside one another as they discover the story their lives tell. We will continue to get really big things really wrong. But when we do, will we lean into one another to yield life?
Beth Bruno’s first book, A Voice Becoming: A Yearlong Journey into Passionate, Purposed Living is now available wherever books are sold.
- Teaching Me Hope - March 10, 2020
- Female Fingerprints Are All Over Global Cities: Will we See them? - March 12, 2019
- When Sacrifice Yields Life: Leaning into One Another - January 9, 2018