The Importance of Being Taken Advantage of

Wisdom comes to us from the strangest places. Every once in a while, I hear a line in a movie, a song, or a TV show that is worth more than 50 sermons, 100 books, or $100,000 dollars worth of education.  It’s the moment where God speaks through someone or something we didn’t expect, leaving us feeling like Moses staring at a burning bush.

Not that long ago, I heard Anderson Cooper interview a social worker who works with inner city kids.  The social worker described stories of being beaten up, robbed for drug money, and countless kids who used his system for a free meal. Anderson asked the obvious question, “Do you ever feel like you are just being taken advantage of?”

“No,” the man replied, “I decided a long time ago to give my advantage away.”

That sentence cut through a way of life I’d always assumed and never called into question. We spend our lives chasing “advantage” in whatever form it may come, as if it is money we are putting in a bank. Every institution we interact with is built around the idea of getting more of it, whether the educational system, the financial system, or the airline points system.  All of this is so that with the advantage we earn, we can leverage it for a college admission, a nicer house, or a first class seat.

In turn, being taken “advantage” of is like the sucker punch we didn’t see coming.  Whether it is being cut off in traffic or being cut out of someone’s life that we care about, it hurts.  I am not suggesting a way of life where we are immune from that. I am suggesting that pledging our lives to the Man who said the first shall be last and that to have your life you have to lose it should cause us to give our “advantage” away before fighting to keep it.

That social workers’ statement is causing me to ask some questions about where the line is in my head between generosity and being taken advantage of. For me, working my faith out with “fear and trembling” as Paul taught us to do happens when I ask these types of questions.  While I don’t know if there is a black and white answer, I’m convinced that the type of foolish living that the cross invites us into happens when we live as people who consistently get taken advantage of.  We should give the most to those who will never give back to us.  We should cook dinner for those who don’t know how to cook and are incapable of returning the favor.  We should invite those into our lives who have nowhere to invite us to.  We should find our way in our particular lot of life to be taken advantage of by someone, all the while reminding ourselves that we have chosen to give our advantage away.