Finding Common Ground, Part 1

Back in the day, one could obtain a mug that said, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.”  Having struggled with mental conditions myself, and knowing others who deal with similar burdens, I can appreciate how this particular phrase might be a little blunt or disheartening.

However, if we select a better word for that adjective, I think that we can all agree that most workplaces are made up of people who share common struggles, traits, and needs.  I’m not saying that everyone is exactly the same, but there are challenges that firefighters face that are different from those in nursing.  The challenges faced by a city council are similar to each other, but different from those who teach children.  A parent faces different challenges from a lawyer (although I’m sure that a few legal clients behave like children, as some parents who are also lawyers can attest to).

Depending on our situation, we probably find it difficult to fully understand and appreciate the challenges that others face in different environments.  So many of us face the pain of separation and division these days, but not from a pandemic.  Instead, we are isolated from other people because of philosophies and principles that keep people apart when we don’t take the time to listen, so that we could understand what others are going through.  When we only interpret other human beings’ points of view from our own limited viewpoints, and never give them a chance to explain how they look at the world, we will remain at odds with them – often in an attitude of hostility.

In a situation like this (when we just don’t understand what someone else is going through, or how they see the world), a great first step is to find common ground.  If you’re an engineer trying to learn the struggles of a psychiatrist, or if you’re a mechanic trying to understand the challenges faced by a stockbroker, it might seem impossible to find things that you share.

There’s some good news here, along with some bad news.  The good news is that there is something that we all share, and where we can find common ground.  The bad news is that this common ground is sin.  We have all made bad choices, and we have decided to separate ourselves from God by rebelling against Him.

Now, I don’t know many casual conversations that start there.  Can you imagine greeting someone new with something like this: “Hey, do you sin?  Me, too?  Tell me about your sins?  Yeah, I sin like that, too, and also in this other way.”

No, I’ve never struck up a conversation like that with a stranger.  However, maybe we should have more discussions like that.  How many of our petty differences would become less important if we could openly acknowledge to each other that we are fallen, imperfect, sinful human beings?  How many of us could find comfort in knowing that our secret sins aren’t unique, and that so many of our fellow souls are fighting the same battles?  How much strength could we find from our fellow men and women (and even children), if we let others hold us accountable, and allowing them to help us fight our battles and strengthen our weaknesses.

I’d like to go a little further on this topic tomorrow, but for today, let’s pause and consider this concept: we all have common ground as sinners.  Passages like Romans 3:22-24 probably come to mind for some readers, but let’s close for today with this lament from the book of Daniel:

All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.

“Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem.
Daniel 9:11‭-‬12 NIV

Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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