Valuing Dignity in Vulnerability

By Rachel Cook on March 26th, 2019

As the new manager of our church’s Christians Against Poverty Debt Centre, I was alarmed when my first client stood up angrily and walked away after I gave him CAP’s advice. A moment later, he walked back, stuck out his hand to shake mine, and said something along the lines of, “I need to go blow off some steam. I don’t like the advice, but you were good to me. Thank you.”

The next client said she’d follow CAP’s advice because she trusted us. Another client told us he sees multiple professionals every week and that he often feels like he gets talked down to. He’s gone on to thank us multiple times for the way we treat him with respect. Two clients I connected with this week named their appreciation for not feeling judged by us. This happens regularly with the work that we do in our CAP Debt Centre; client after client has remarked about the sense of dignity and respect they feel through the way we treat them. Why is that?

I’m starting to realize that people who need frequent help end up getting used to being treated with a decreased level of respect than what most of us are used to. While most of us are used to receiving a standard level of respect, many of our CAP clients remark on how well we treat them because it feels different to them. When we get treated poorly, it angers us! We might choose to take our business elsewhere, or to avoid people who don’t treat us properly. Unfortunately, avoiding people who leave them feeling disrespected isn’t an option for those who rely on multiple forms of help, such as government assistance, support workers, medical professionals, housing assistance, and legal professionals. To live on the margins, or with an ongoing struggle of any form, is to live vulnerably.

There are two aspects to our work with our CAP Debt Centre clients. The first is the obvious financial help that we provide. The second is the interpersonal relationship we form with our clients. It’s in this dynamic that as a church we can show what it means to live as Christ. Jesus ignores power imbalance and reserves judgement on the people he comes into contact with. He tells those without sin to throw the first stone at the woman caught in adultery and then goes on to tell her that he will not condemn her. The gospels give other examples, such as Zacchaeus and the woman at the well, where the way that Jesus withholds judgement leaves the people he encounters changed. Not only does Christ model the reservation of judgement, he models what it means to be vulnerable. I’m learning not only through Jesus, but also our CAP clients, how to live with vulnerability while also valuing dignity.

In each of our relationships, we can fill the space between us and others with judgement or with dignity. When the interpersonal connections we establish are rooted in respect through the grace that we’ve been given, both parties are empowered to live more fully into who we’ve been created to be. My prayer is that not only our CAP clients, but anyone who encounters followers of Christ, will experience Jesus through the way they feel dignified through the connection.