Dear Henri, No Earthly Good – Week 17, Day 2

Northern_lightsDear Henri,

Have you ever heard of the phrase: "S/he's so heavenly minded, s/he does no earthly good"?

It more or less refers to nice people who think they're doing really nice things for people, when in reality they're making present situations worse.

In grad school, we learned about good community development, and not-so-good community development. Just because there was an earthquake in Haiti, it doesn't mean well-meaning Christians from developed nations should rush off and start scooping up children. Nor does it mean old models once useful are currently being effective (i.e. soup kitchens or food pantries). Using emergency stop-gaps over extended periods of time tend not to break poverty cycles but entrench them. Then again, too much wordly talk over "the how of things" could leave people in their suffering for far too long.

Heavenly-minded people are heavenly-minded not necessarily because we are more or less angelic than the rest of us. I think we're more heavenly-minded because we're idealists: we see unmet needs around them, and our entire beings cannot rest unless they put our imaginations to the pursuit if compassion and justice. But sometimes we can focus so much on the ideal that we lose sight of wisdom. Giving $10 to the guy outside the liquor store isn't going to help the guy sober up. Putting energy into volunteering at a shelter or de-tox centre might build relationship better, but fueling a habit? Yeah sure, the nice person is giving and giving and giving. But maybe they're not giving in a way that uplifts or humanizes.

We all battle with how to address the needs in ourselves and around us, don't we? No single approach is going to be perfect; and no invidual or group will use any approach perfectly. 

We need nice people.

Even when their good intentions eclipse what's actually needed, their hearts are in the right place.

“When people show you their boundaries ("I can't do this for you") you feel rejected…part of your struggle is to set boundaries to your own love. Only when you are able to set your own boundaries will you be able to acknowledge, respect and even be grateful for the boundaries of others.” -Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

Sometimes I'm a nice person.

I have great ideas (or think I do) in response to needs I perceive around me. I look to be sensitive to Spirit's movement within me, and to others' humanity around me.

For example, no matter how hard I pray, I cannot shake the call or focus of intentional community with youth. Since I was a teenager, this has been burned into my very person. So when I find myself in backwater, Alberta, with real estate prices that are toxic, and more impossibilities stacked against me than a losing game of Tetris, I have to wonder: "How did I get here?"

I could move.

Even if God was pressing me to move, I have no cash to do so.

I could get a new job.

Trying to begin something new demands time and flexibility. While my current job can't pay me much, it's been the most patient and flexible position I've ever held. There's a lot to be said for that.

Still… how did I get here? 

Here, God?


Sometimes… I'm the judge.

I see efforts of people around me, and I think they've been smacked upside the head with the crazy stick. Sometimes these efforts are truly poorly constructed and thought out, despite good intentions. 

Other times, I know it can be my snide little ego frustrated with my own ideals not being realized.

Sometimes, I get so stuck on being a helper that when people put up boundaries to keep me out, I do get a little bit hurt. 

Sometimes… I'm the one who puts up boundaries. Some people demand a lot of help. And instead of community flourishing, co-dependency takes a hold of both of us.

Nice people.

We really do want to help.


I know you know what I'm talking about, Henri. Otherwise you wouldn't have devoted so much time to healthy relationships and boundaries. Are there prescription glasses you could suggest for heavenly-minded folks to see the world better?

Gosh, that would help bunches.

Until next time,


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