Don’t Make Me Your Project

What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like. Saint Augustine

“I hate feeling like I’m someone else’s project!”

I’d just finished sharing part of my story with the group. I expressed my gratitude for the people who wove the story of Relentless Grace and my belief that God sent this small circle of folks who refused to let me quit on life.

This guy (I’ll call him Don) limped toward me, shook my hand, and thanked me for my willingness to be vulnerable. Don explained his own physical challenges and said he understood my reluctance to accept help (The Hardest Thing).

He related some uncomfortable incidents in which well-meaning people tried to help but he felt like he was their “project.”

Don described feeling like he represented a task to accomplish, an item on their checklist. We chuckled as he compared himself to a household job like a broken pipe that needed repair. He said that some people acted like they had to “fix” him so they could move on to the next entry on the to-do list.

“Does it always feel like that when others help?” He shook his head. “So what’s the difference? What’s missing when accepting help makes you feel like a project?”

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “I just know that it feels like they’ve decided I’m broken and I need to be fixed.”

After a few minutes of discussion, I proposed this summary: “I wonder if that means that they care more about helping you than they care about you. I wonder if it’s about relationship.”

I have a good friend named Jim who really gets this. Jim loves to do things for people, but even more than that he loves the people. When he does you a favor, you feel like he’s the one being served. He just has a knack for doing a project and never making you feel like a project.

Jim helps others because he loves Jesus—he’s my image of “Jesus in blue jeans.” But those he helps never feel like they’re part of some organized ministry. He sees a need and meets it without losing sight of the person behind the need.

As I think back on the story of Relentless Grace, I see people who cared about me, not about what was wrong with me. Their help wasn’t a project—it was an expression of love.

I wonder about my own efforts to help others. Do I unintentionally treat them like a project? Do I take the time to care for the person, to listen, to genuinely value relationship?

Do my actions reflect gratitude for the opportunity to serve?

Does this distinction between “caring about helping” and “caring about people” make sense? How has either notion played out in your experience?