A friend from church took me out for lunch yesterday. We had a nice visit. After lunch, we went a local electronics shop to look for a phone headset because my friend has trouble holding the handset. He had a stroke a couple of years ago and gets around slowly these days. His speech is fine, as is his mind, but a disturbing “little” thing happened at the store. The salesperson never really looked at my friend. She described three different items to me, even though I said two times, “show that to my friend, he’s buying it.” It was like he wasn’t there. I’ve experienced this before when I’ve been out with seniors or people with a disability. My friend was quite disturbed by this slight and we talked about it on the way home. He’s not used to this kind of treatment, and I don’t blame him. He’s seen it before – too often. My friend’s wife had MS and spent many years in a wheelchair. She died about three years ago. People would ignore her too and act like she wasn’t there. Why do people do that?
I stopped by my mom’s place today. She’s doing great after breaking her hip in November of last year – she’s walking farther every day now that spring has sprung. However, she could relate to my story about my “invisible” friend. When she’s out with her children (including me), she feels invisible too. Some people will just talk to the younger, stronger person and avoid eye contact with the older person.
Part of the reason that I’m writing this post is to work through this discrimination as it relates to my own life. Sure, I’m angry at the insensitivity shown to my friend and my mom, but am I guilty of discrimination against the elderly and handicapped? Yes, more than I’d care to admit. For instance, there are some seniors that I know that are really nice people. When I’m at the Lodge or the Nursing home, I enjoy visiting them. I’ve heard fragments of fascinating life stories. Do I get there other than when I’m “doing my duty” when it’s our church’s turn to do chapel services once every 8 to 10 weeks? No, I don’t. I know they don’t get many visitors, but I’m not compelled to make a special trip to see them. I’ve talked to some people about helping with senior’s ministry, but I’m not leading by example very well and this ministry is not going anywhere in our church. I don’t go out of my way to spend time with those who are mentally or physically handicapped either. I admire people that do, but I’m more of a product of my culture than I should be.
What’s wrong with our culture when it comes to the elderly and disabled? Why does seeing people who are not young, strong and “normal” make us uncomfortable? We can blame Hollywood and Madison Avenue for their unrealistic images of ideal people, but the problem lies deeper than that. One of the effects of the Fall is our desire to suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Because of sin, we all are under a death sentence. We grow old, we get sick, we have disfiguring accidents, we will ultimately die. The elderly and the disabled are reminders that something is wrong with our world and that there is something wrong with us. An automatic defense mechanism is to deny this fact, walk away and turn up the background noise (music, TV, general busyness, whatever).
If we are followers of Jesus Christ, we ought to do better. Jesus said that if we minister to “the least of these, my brothers” we minister to Him (Matthew 25:31-46). For our sakes, Jesus became poor so that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). He emptied himself so that we might be made full through Him.
We are not saved by the works that we do for those who are marginalized in society. However, the way we treat the weak will reveal the nature of our faith in Christ and our understanding of His condescension to us.
I pray that I will grow in practical application of the theology that I say I love as it works itself out in my service to others. Particularly towards those who are often invisible in our prosperous, strong, fast-paced world. A world that is a lot weaker and sicker that it thinks it is.