Years ago, the theory of Six Degrees of Separation was floated; a movie was even made about it. It purports that we are all six introductions away from meeting everyone else in the world. Over the years, I have thought about this theory a lot. For decades, I lived in a small town in a rural part of our state. There was not a lot of ethnic diversity in our town and so I wondered how this theory could be true? So, I decided to put it to the test.
I have a friend whose brother is married to the sister of a well known actor. Okay, that makes me four degrees out from meeting him. I have another friend whose husband was a politician. They traveled back to Washington D.C. and met several well known politicians. So that would make me three degrees out from meeting some of those people. But what about people living in Inner Mongolia? How many people would I have to meet in order to meet some of them? Or what about people living in the interior of China? How many people would I have to meet in order to get to know some of them?
As I said, I have thought about this theory a lot and I don’t believe it is true. What is true however, is that even if we haven’t met those living on the other side of the world, we are still connected to them in many ways. We are not six degrees away from being connected to them. We are connected to them in a primary first degree way because we are all human beings.
For example, we all have the same basic physical needs. We have the desire for our families to be well and thrive. We have the same emotional need to be loved and well taken care of. We all desire to live in safety and be protected from harm. We are all similar in many ways despite our cultural differences.
When we think of those on the other side of the world, we need to see ourselves as having a connection to them. We should care about them regardless of the country they live in or the government that is ruling over them. We should not dismiss them because they have a different skin color, ethnicity or religion. We are all just people and we are more alike than we are different from each other. When we see that they are in need, it shouldn’t take six introductions for us to reach out and help them, it should only take one.
Image by BenFilm. Courtesy of Pixabay.
I first saw Gloria when I was in the second grade. She was a small fragile child with light blonde hair. Her skin was so translucent, you could see the blue veins in her face. She was partially deaf and had a large hearing aid attached to her head behind her ear. When she spoke, she was hard to understand as she did not enunciate her words like the other children. Because she was so delicate, she did not participate in games during recess.
I felt bad for Gloria but didn’t know how to express my feelings. One day when I walked into the girls restroom, she was at the sink washing her hands. She shyly smiled at me and I returned the smile. I watched her reach for the paper towels with difficulty. Her plight touched my heart. At six years old, I didn’t know what to say to her. When she left the restroom, I went into the stall and started crying. Here was a delicate child, a special child with lots of problems, that struggled with even the most basic tasks. Gloria was only in my class for a few more weeks. I don’t know if she moved or was placed in a different class because I never saw her again. I do know that I will never forget her and that I owe her a debt of gratitude for opening a well of compassion inside of me.
When I think about her, I think about her name. Gloria’s name is from the Latin meaning glory or glorious. Some see the glory of God in a star athlete who can run fast or climb a high mountain. When I look at an athlete with those kinds of accomplishments, I see the glory of man. Conversely, when I look at a child with a disability, I see the glory of God. He is the One that gives that special child the strength to struggle through each day and night. He gives the child joy and thankfulness for the simple accomplishments we all take for granted.
Gloria, wherever you are, you changed my life and I will always be grateful to you.
“And the King will answer and say to them, Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40.
Several years ago, I was standing at the pharmacy counter waiting for my son’s prescription. For two years, he had been suffering from a migraine pain syndrome set off by a fall on a gym floor. We had been to doctors, neurologists, and a vascular specialist who told us our son had the worst kind of migraines. Nothing we tried seemed to give him relief for any period of time. So there I was, buying yet another prescription that may or may not help. I was feeling sorry for myself because I was putting out more money that was probably being spent in vain that could have been used for something else. As I was spiraling down in the quietness of my own thoughts, I just happened to look out the window.
There in front of me was a middle-aged man walking by. He was obviously going to the railroad tracks behind the pharmacy hoping to catch a train. He was carrying a backpack as he moved along. Then…he looked up and I saw him…really saw him. He had the saddest eyes I had ever seen. They were filled with pain and suffering and bore deep into my soul. At that moment, I knew I was looking into the eyes of Christ. There, in that man was true suffering. I was immediately taken aback and felt ashamed. I, who had so much, was feeling sorry for myself and just outside the window was a man who had nothing but the clothes on his back. I will never forget his face or those eyes that bored into my soul. To this day, I will never know if that was an actual man or a manifestation of the Lord on earth.
I do know that in his eyes, I had seen the Lord. He was not walking the hallowed halls of government power or sitting in a plush corporate boardroom. He was there with the lowly, the suffering, and the homeless. I know now that if I want to be where the heart of God is, that I must go where the broken-hearted are. That’s where He will be, ministering his love and grace to those who have no hope and need His help.
“The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, and saves such as have a contrite spirit.” Psalm 34:18
Have you ever been in a situation with someone who was going through something temporary and you wanted to say to them, “Just Snap Out of It!”? I have and even if I haven’t said it, I have thought it.
Three weeks ago, my husband hurt his knee at the gym. He was kind of moping around the house because he couldn’t go for a bike ride or do any physical activity. I knew he would get better in a few days and was very supportive on the outside, but inside I wanted to say, “Just Snap Out of It!” I thought I knew what he was going through; I just wanted him to skip feeling bad and move to being okay with it. You know what I mean, “Just pretend you are not going through the process.”
Fast forward a couple of weeks; I woke up with vertigo. It was the day of a monthly luncheon I go to and I was really bummed I couldn’t go. Having had it before, I was also feeling bad because I knew I would have a few days or weeks of limited activity. My husband was very solicitous and took good care of me. He felt bad for me and was very understanding. He is a better person than I am and so I’m sure he wasn’t thinking, “Just Snap Out of It!”
You see, we never know what someone else is going through. As my husband pointed out when I read him the first few paragraphs of this post, “We don’t know the mental battle they may be fighting,” and that’s true. My husband just wasn’t bummed because of his knee pain, he was also thinking about the possibility of a knee replacement in his future. Because he is the strong silent type, he doesn’t communicate everything he is thinking and feeling.
When I was younger, I would have probably said to someone, “Just Snap Out of It!” when they were feeling bummed about a temporary situation. Now that I am older, I have at least learned to keep my mouth shut when I am thinking something like that. I am learning I need to put myself in their shoes and have empathy for whatever they are going through. Sometimes the mental battle they are fighting is a lot greater than the physical discomfort they are feeling.
What about you? Are you one of those strong-willed motivated types that can pull yourselves up by the bootstraps and carry on in most situations? Do you have little or no patience with those who struggle with things that you think you could soldier on through? Let’s face it, whatever we think we are, we are not. We are all made from the dust of the earth and it wouldn’t take much for each one of us to be in the same position we find someone else in. The best thing we can do in most situations is extend grace and lovingkindness to others, since we don’t truly know everything they are going through.
“Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” 1 Peter 3:8
When you were younger, did your parents ever say to you, “Take a good look at it!” Usually you were in trouble and they were trying to show you the right way to do something or you were facing the consequences of your own bad behavior. Possibly, you might have been with them in the car and there was someone strung out on drugs on the sidewalk. They would then point out what they wanted you to learn from the situation in question. That phrase was usually related to something negative, no doubt about it.
Might there be another way to look at these negative situations? Take the homeless man on the corner, the drug addict sleeping on the sidewalk, or the people at the soup kitchen trying to get a hot meal. Do we need to “take a good look” at these situations or do we need to “take a God look” at them?
How does God look at people in difficult situations? Does He view them with compassion and have a plan to help them when they cry out to Him? I believe He does. His compassion extends to those who are stuck in the most unfortunate of situations. When we see them, let’s try to see them from God’s perspective. What would He have us do to help others when they are right before our eyes?
Let’s not “take a good look at them,” let’s “take a God look at them,” and see how we should respond to the needs before us.