The church service has come to an end and I’m wending my way towards the exit, mingling as I go. She’s coming over in my direction and her smile, full of kindly intent, triggers a sense of impending danger in me. It’s going to be one of those conversations.
“Do you get help?”
I instantly recognise that this, apparently random, question is prompted by my wheelchair. I steel myself for battle. A battle to be related to as an equal. To burst my way out of the box, labelled ‘sick and needy’, in which my interlocutor believes I reside, little realising that from my perspective it is she who has put me in there. It’s not my wheelchair that’s making me feel trapped right now, it’s her.
I decide to turn the question back to the questioner.
“Well, I don’t need help”
Well that patently didn’t work! The box around me remains firmly in place. Never mind, her response gives me a great opening to point out that we are all utterly dependent so really the ‘needy’ box should have all of us in it. It’s obvious when you really think about it. None of us would be clothed or fed or sheltered if God was not sustaining the earth and a whole army of people weren’t in place to bring the earth’s abundance to us in ways we can access. We depend on interaction with others for emotional and psychological health. Dependence is not the preserve of those we deem less fortunate, but the universal human condition. Most fundamentally of all for Christians, we are united by our common rescue. We are a saved people, a rescued people, and when we meet we celebrate our rescue and worship our Saviour.
“because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions” Ephesians 2:4-5
As the church we are male and female, rich and poor, employed and unemployed, immigrant and native born, disabled and able-bodied but our utter dependence on God’s mercy unites us. We are all one in Christ Jesus. There is no ‘them and us’.
“Well, no one would survive without others…..” I begin
“But I don’t need physical help” she interrupts, anxious to clarify. She will not be joining me in that box and neither will she be letting me out of it!
Another Sunday. Another kindly smile.
Protestations that I am not especially marvellous fall on deaf ears.
“No, you really are marvellous!”
Marvellous, how? Marvellous for taking up residence in the ‘sick and needy’ box so everyone else can feel glad they’re not in there with me?
I’m annoyed now. I want her to know I don’t need her or her pity. I want her to see me how I want to be seen. I want her to know I’m competent, in control, just fine. But that’s not true either. She wants to be strong and to cast me as weak. My natural response is to assert my strength. What we both need, however, is to see our weakness. There’s only one strong person in church, and even He became weak.
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:3-8