I have two children.
The depths of love I have for both of them is deep and wide and by all intents and purposes equal.
Yet, the ways in which I, as their mother, am called to care for them are drastically different.
The three-year-old is quite possibly developmentally advanced. He has a sharp eye for puzzles. He practically packs his own lunchbox, picks out his own clothes and usually reminds me when and how we are supposed to do things.
The nine-year-old, while wicked smart, struggles deeply. He can rattle off the most insanely fascinating facts about outer space, prehistoric time and the best strategy to beat the latest game he’s playing on his iPad, yet he falls apart on simple tasks. He cannot articulate his feelings. His obsessions keep him from moving quickly from one thing to the next. And sometimes, he frankly struggles to leave the house.
I share this because it is my growth as a mother that has most opened my eyes to the ways in which God relates to humanity. Paralleled against the years that I have worked with our churches to care for unhoused neighbors through Micah, I am especially challenged by what my parental learnings have revealed about those who might not fit neatly into the systems and structures the world has created.
I imagine that many of us, through some familial bond, can resonate—loving our children, siblings or even members of a close-knit group of friends in immeasurable ways. Yet, these relationships teach us that different kinds of support in various seasons of life are often necessary for each person to function at their fullest potential.
It is a lot easier, in spite of differences, to see those closest to us as one unit. It is when we get into the broader parts of community, where we encounter neighbors we do not know, that it becomes challenging to appreciate that those with different circumstances still have something to offer.
Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that all members of God’s family are equally necessary for the body to flourish. The hand needs the eye. The head needs the foot. And the body is not the body without equal recognition of its parts.
In a world that measures value on educational degrees, annual salary, contribution to the tax base, possessions and hours worked, where does that leave people whose contributions might look different because of disability, age, housing status, health, trauma or other narratives effected by race, class or gender inequality?
Don’t misunderstand: This curious question is not aimed at making us feel bad for being a really good body part. God wants prosperity. God wants success. But God, the parent, wants that for each and every member of the family.
Paul says “The members of the body that seem weaker are indispensable.” That means they are absolutely necessary. And therefore, we are to offer greater care and respect than we might even expect for ourselves.
It is because we are a stellar appendage of the body of Christ, that we have a mission and call to work that much harder to create a world that functions just as well for parts of the body that may experience it differently.
If someone is suffering, we are all suffering because we are each an equal part of the body. We cannot live into the fullness of who God created any of us to be; and we cannot be the stellar appendage we might even think we are, if our nose is bleeding, our eye is scratched or our hand is broken.
Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, is known for spending a lot of time with death row inmates—a part of our society that could not be more disenfranchised and disconnected from the whole.
We have to “get proximate” to people who are suffering,” Stevenson says. “If you are willing to get close to people who are suffering, you will find the power to change the world.”
There is no coincidence that God arranged humanity as many parts of one body, in ultimate proximity to one another. It is the pursuit of that proximity that allows us to know and feel the suffering of appendages that may not be functioning as well.
Getting proximate, however, is not just a matter of visiting a struggling body part and offering an assistive device so that WE can get back to being the amazing body part we are. It is a lifetime of moving in and out of care for one another, and recognizing the intrinsic value of what each member contributes.
Take, for instance, the “proximity” embraced by our downtown churches all these years as we have welcomed people into our buildings for food, clothing, showers and relationships. The things we have accomplished together through Micah Ministries is a fundamental acknowledgement of what can happen when the body recognizes the sum of its parts.
Truth is, caring for our neighbors who find themselves without a home is not so different from the creative ways that any of us might seek solutions for the different needs of our own children.
And our neighbors are somebody’s child, as well.
For whatever reason, as adults they have experienced a profound catastrophic loss of family and other supportive relationships that might have otherwise kept them out of homelessness. When they run out of relationships they live separated from society, exiled to a place of judgement, distress, and uselessness.
If we do not pursue them, they remain disconnected from the body. And not only do they suffer, but we all suffer.
For many in our homeless population, a stint in a shelter or on street will be a brief tragedy in their narrative. They will overcome it and it will never happen again.
There are others, however, who will end up on the street and remain physically, mentally, emotionally and/or spiritually homeless for the rest of their lives, unless we offer a permanent, long-term option where they can settle, heal and rebuild their lives on their own time and with support.
I would like to think that if my own children or anybody’s children–the parts of our body–were to find themselves in such a position at any point in their lives, we would be the kind of community that embraced the different needs of all God’s people and had a solution prepared for the very least among us.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.
~Corinthians 12: 12~
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