How well do we value others? Do we see them as a project, or do we see them as someone of infinite value to God and worthy of our love? Are they on our ‘to-do’ list, or are they on our ‘to-love-well’ list?
Never view a person as a problem to be solved; view them as someone to be loved.
“Visit? But they don’t even know me!” Sister Anne, my coworker in a group home for mentally challenged children, handed me my jacket and pushed me out the door. “I told them you were coming; it’s their weekly open house night. They’ll welcome you with open arms!”
She was right.
As soon as our next-door neighbour’s door opened in response to my timid knock and even before I had a chance to say who I was, an elderly man with the smile of an angel greeted me with a warm hug. At least a dozen friendly people shouted hello from the kitchen. A younger man, short in stature and huge in grace, helped me put my coat away. I was ushered into an inviting kitchen, and then handed a mug of hot apple cider and a slightly burned chocolate chip cookie. Once I settled at the kitchen table, someone finally asked me my name. They all recognised me as their neighbour, and a person of value, that was good enough for them.
It was my first taste of L’Arche, a Christian community made up of mentally and physically challenged adults and those that love them. The people who lived there were not in care, they were not patients, and they were definitely not seen by those who loved them as clients. Those who called L’Arche home lived in an atmosphere of mutual respect, honour, hope and love.
Their home was exactly that — their home. They had a say in the everyday running of their home – from meal planning to interior decorating to staffing. Potential employees went through a stringent battery of tests to prove their training in the field of home care. Physical endurance and strength were necessary as some of the family lived in wheelchairs.
But what the residents of the home really wanted to know about the potential job-seeker was this. Would they be able to see each housemate as someone as their equal and one who is deserving of respect and honour? Would they be able to value the input of each household member? Those who called L’Arche home expected others to treat them as friends and colleagues.
Many of the friends I met that night used to live in state-of-the-art institutions before moving into their homes. They received excellent medical care in those institutions. Their previous residences provided wholesome food, adequate clothing, and secure shelter. And yet, as a result of living for years in the institutionalised atmosphere of provincially-run institutions, their spirits slowly withered and eventually slumbered. As overworked staff were often overwhelmed by their workload, they had little opportunity to attend to the emotional and spiritual needs of their patients.
Many of those who grew up in such institutions arrived at L’arche withdrawn. They hid their emotions and personality deep within themselves. But, as they realised they were no longer just an item on someone’s chore list, new shoots of life slowly sprung forth. They stopped recoiling from hugs and other safe expressions of touch and connection. Once the truth that they were loved and valued sank into their hearts, even the most withdrawn housemate blossomed. Love awakens hearts that would lay dormant without its touch. The proof of restored hearts was evident as they, in turn, lavished unconditional love into the lives of those around them, even shy and bemused first-time visitors such as me.
I will always remember the lessons I learned through these generous hearts, and I ask the Lord to protect me from seeing the people I serve as projects on my to-do list.
If you are caught up in the day-to-day routine of physically caring for others as a parent, spouse or caregiver, take a few moments today and ask the Lord to remind you of their worth in His eyes. See them through the filter of His passionate love for them as individuals. Resolve to do something today that makes it clear to them that you see them as a person who is deeply loved by God and who is greatly valued by yourself. It could be as simple as making eye contact and smiling as you serve them.
Allow the Lord to show you how much He loves you, especially if you feel that those you serve are taking you for granted. Let your sense of value come from His expression of love for you. Don’t shrug off those little nuggets of love He daily sends your way.
Until Next Week
©2023 Katherine Walden