I have struggled with this blog post for the last few weeks, not because I couldn’t find the words. No, I’m actually struggling to find the photos that would be an encouragement and example to others. That struggle helps to solidify a need for the words.
You see, when I was in Africa a few weeks back I noticed something different that I couldn’t immediately put my finger on. I came home and found myself editing pictures and writing blog posts to explain those pictures. Words started coming to mind one at a time, words that caused me to think about my life now and in the past. They made me think about the trip more as I tried to put my finger on what it was I was feeling.
Invest. Intentional. Individual.
Those three words were the first words that I began to focus on. What do they mean? What do they mean to me? What do they mean to others? How do people invest in others? How can I capture these ideas in photos?
I mentioned some of this to a handful of friends. I got very mixed responses. Sometimes blank stares. Other times a few words. Usually the response was either questioning what I meant by the phrase “investing in others” or an admission that they didn’t know how to capture it in a photo. Usually it was the former response.
When thinking of investments we often think of financial investments so I started with that idea in an effort to process these words. When you invest for retirement it is a long-term process. You don’t drop a penny in a piggy bank one time and assume that one coin will meet your needs later in life. When you make financial investments you also realize that there will be good times when the investment grows and bad times when it doesn’t. More words came to mind.
Risky. Long-term. Ongoing.
As I struggled to think of this in terms of relationships I wondered if I was crazy. Do people even invest in others? If so, why? If so, why is it so hard to see it when we look around? What is significant about investing in someone?
The more I pondered these questions the more frustrated I became. I have caught glimpses of these investments at church in the first few weeks I was home from Africa. These glimpses have driven me to continue to pursue this idea. During the third sermon after I came home each of the six words that I had been considering was used. I had a brief conversation with a man who invested in me years ago and was encouraged to continue pursuing this idea. At the same time others continued to question what I meant.
Here is where I am.
Investing in others is a long-term commitment. We don’t know the outcome of the time spent in this process. It is risky. Like financial investments, it may even get ugly. It may be hard work at times. We may even get hurt. It’s not something that happens casually, requiring us to be intentional and deliberate.
As I’ve thought through this I’ve always had the word “individual” as an underlying thought. It’s not that individual is singular and this is about investing in one person, but rather that it is about investing in person rather than issue. An example would be comparing and contrasting feeding one homeless person meal after meal as opposed to dropping in at the homeless shelter to serve the soup others prepared for a large group. While the latter is important, I have to ask if we make a bigger difference, a more significant impact, by investing in one person regularly as opposed to many occasionally.
So let me ask, do you have someone you invest in? Do you have someone who invests in you? Do you have that person who will drop everything to help you walk though life when life gets to a point you don’t know what to do? Are you willing to do that for someone else? When the phone rings in the middle of the night because the dog has died, will you help carry it out of the house? That’s a relationship that shows an investment has occurred.
Maybe you’re thinking that you do that with your partner or your kids. Great. Keep it up, but realize those are the relationships where it is expected and required. Is there more you can do for others? “Well, I invest in my friends when we’re playing ball.” Is that really an investment though? Or is the time spent together the byproduct of an event? “But people are messy.” Yes we are, aren’t we? Go deep with others into their mess and the reward will amaze you.
Why is this important? I think this hit home because when I was in Africa I found people who invested in others. They didn’t focus on the social issues of the day, but instead focused on making certain that the individual people surrounding them were making it to the next day, to the best any of us can do that. They were trying to help others be better next week than they were yesterday. They didn’t tend to focus on how good someone was, how deserving they were of the help. Instead it was about the person in spite of who they were or what they had done. Lasting change doesn’t come about because of a change in policies. It comes about through the individual relationships we have with others and our ability to help and encourage individuals to be better humans tomorrow than they were today. It’s an important part of community.
So I ask again, do you invest in someone other than those you are expected to? I would love to continue the dialogue as you explore the question. I’d love to capture that investment through photos to encourage others to do the same.