Sunday, April 19, 2009

Avoiding Eye Contact

A few weeks back, Pastor Mark was talking about suffering people. Actually, he's been teaching on it for a few weeks, because he's been in 1 Peter, and there's a lot of suffering in there.

So, as he's talking about people being real, and allowing others into their pain, he said something about how when we know someone is in pain, we don't like to ask, because we don't like to see others cry and because we might feel like we have to do something for them.

This thought's been in my brain hanging around ever since.

Today, two things happened that brought it to the surface: I spoke with a young woman at church - let's call her, Sarah, who was with a little bit older woman in a wheelchair (let's call her, Anna). Now, Anna was probably mid-twenties, and she has CP (cerebral palsy) I think, and is kind of bent up. She had a tray on her chair with two things: a hand towel (which tells me she probably drools a bit), and a pink iPod docked in a speaker set attached to the wheelchair tray.

I saw these two at church last Sunday on Easter, sitting in the foyer together watching the service on the flat screen. They caught my eye for a few reasons, one of the biggies is that I completely identify with sitting out in the foyer with a person with special needs. Over the last fifteen years, I've spent many Sundays watching services from Nursing Mother's rooms (I have no nursing babies), foyers (even when there was room inside), and, most memorable, sitting on the sidewalk outside the church listening through the overhead speaker holding one of my special kids who was a bit challenging (to say the least). During those years, I honestly don't remember too many folks joining me so I'd have some company.

So I have a considerable amount of empathy here.

Today, Sarah and Anna were back. This time, just inside the doors of the sanctuary. I smiled as I went past the first time, having things to do - like picking up my kids from the nice people in children's ministry. When I came back up, they were out in the lobby, alone. Now, I don't know if anyone else talked to them, but I do know that a lot of conversation was happening around them. I went up. We talked for a minute. I asked her if she was a caregiver, and she said she only helped on Sundays. She is a friend of Anna's family and Anna loves to go to church - she loves the music and being around the people. Sarah is a young, attractive girl. I'm pretty certain she had other things she could be doing with her Sunday.

She chose to help Anna and Anna's family.

Last week, I saw her loading Anna into a van by herself, today she was standing by herself. Our church has hundreds of people milling around after services. They were alone. Two weeks in a row that I know about. I am not condemning our fellowship. Like I said, I don't know that no one spoke to them. All I can speak to is my personal experience in a variety of churches over the past fifteen years. Very lonely years. It's almost like having a person with intense needs puts a bubble around you. Like no one knows what to say, so they avoid eye contact, and move away. Or, they give you a quick smile, and move away.

This is how I feel when I see guys standing at freeway exits with cardboard signs. I avoid eye contact. I know that I really can't help them. I don't even know if they actually need my help. But, because I feel guilty that I am in my car, and they are standing out there with a sign, I avoid them. Avoid any chance of interaction.

Now, one time, Kameron was with me in the car and we were heading to Physical Therapy. I was stopped at the light, and there was a guy. Kam starting yelling, "Hi! Hi!" to him, being a friendly sort of nine year old. So, I rolled down the back window so he could say hi better. The man, turns out his name is Scott, was shaking Kam's hand and genuinely happy to talk to him for a second. In fact, he kept saying, "God bless you" to Kameron. This all makes me think.

Why do we assume that the less fortunate are wanting something from us? Yes, often they are, but sometimes, maybe all they want is for someone to stop and see them, talk to them, give them a second of human interaction in a kind way, not like they're freaks or something.

Doesn't that apply to all of us at some point in our lives? Haven't you ever had a time when you desperately needed someone to just see you? To ask you how you were and mean it?

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I guess I just want all of us to take a few minutes out of our lives and make that eye contact. Take a risk, say "hi" to the street person, go introduce yourself to that mom alone with all the kids or that person in the wheelchair.

I doubt that it will change the world, but I can almost guarantee it will brighten up theirs for a moment. And maybe yours, too.