Culture At Large

Prepositions and Serving One Another

Chris Salzman

Some of you hate grammar, probably most of you. It's boring, it's tricky, there are rules for everything, and most of them can be broken. I just happen to be the kind of person who diagrams confusing phrases and sentences in his head. So, Kathy's post at the Carnival in my mind appeals to me.

The post concerns the ways in which Christians use prepositional phrases. Despite the boredom you might be feeling right now at being this close to a discussion on grammar, I think her points are approachable:

[If you need to refresh your memory on prepositions, take a look at this site. Wikipedia also has a rather exhaustive list of prepositions.]

in christian circles, the preposition TO has become the most prevalent. “i have something i need to give to you.” i have wisdom i need to impart to you....the problem with the preposition TO is that it is very paternal & creates oppression....someone is more squared away than the other person and has resource, knowledge, put-together-ness that the other person doesn’t have.


the preposition FOR is another easy reflex for most of us. it’s when we want to do things for a hurting person. “here, let me makes these calls for you” “i don’t want you to hurt so let me fix this part for you”...the preposition FOR is extremely maternal and creates co-dependence. helpers get sucked into helping and also end in a one-up role where they are the ones who need to take care of the person, make things happen for them, or stay in a role where they are always just only “serving” people and it always stays on those terms.


the preposition WITH changes everything. it means “i am with you in this moment, will stand alongside not walking ahead of you but alongside you.” “i am in the same boat, i struggle, too, my struggle may just look different.” “i want to share life with you, not just take care of you or tell you what to do” “you have some things i need to learn from, too. let’s learn from each other.”


okay, there’s no question: WITH is way scarier. it means i let others in and don’t hide behind my do-good-ness. it means i make myself vulnerable and let others into my life, my experience, my heart instead of just take care of them and keep a safe distance. the professional, clinical culture has permeated the church and some of us have been taught that is having “bad boundaries.” we have been taught that good boundaries is helpers help when it works for them and help-ees need to do what help-ers tell them to do and then everyone’s happy, right? neat, tidy, clean. i help, i tell, i give. you receive, you listen, you be thankful.


TO is paternal & can create oppression

FOR is maternal & can create codependence

WITH is incarnational & tends to create transformation (on both sides)

There's a huge difference between saying, "Let me do that for you." and "Let me do that with you." The latter oftentimes requires a much greater investment of time.

Do you think our words matter that much? Does the bible call us to do things "with" people and not "to" and "for" them? Other thoughts?

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