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Why You Shouldn't Ignore the Marginalized

Why You Shouldn't Ignore the Marginalized

I was stopped at an intersection while driving home from church a few Sunday’s ago. There, crossing under the overpass, was a man and woman walking to the nearest shopping center. Many people walk this way to get to the nearest Publix, Target, or fast food restaurant. That’s not unusual, but this couple was different. Honestly, I can’t tell you if they were a mother-son pair or a couple because I didn’t look at them long enough to gather detailed information. You see, this man and woman were physically and, by appearances, mentally disabled. Their gait was severely labored and their outward demeanor, even at a glance, was that of people who have a tough time getting by.

Instinctively, I looked away and focused my attention on the red light in front of me. I didn’t want to stare at this man and woman in an attempt not to draw attention to their obvious physical weaknesses. Looking back, I wonder if that was the right response.

Often, when I see others with visible handicaps, my first reaction is to turn away after a quick smile in order to not embarrass them. By embarrass them, I mean draw more attention to them than any other person I pass in the super market or restaurant. I inwardly assume that they have faced the mocking of peers or ignorant jests of misguided people, and I do not want to even hint at drawing on their differences. Rather, I simply acknowledge them as fellow people worth treating with dignity, respect, and assistance if I can provide any. But I wonder if, by ignoring their differences, I am ignoring something special that God wants me to see.

I remember one adult man in particular whom I recently came in contact with. He, his mother, and sister were shopping at a Goodwill store and were waiting in line behind my mother and me. The young man was disabled both mentally and physically. His sister and mother carried him into the store and placed him in the back of the buggy to shop with them. As we waited in line, my mother and I made small talk with the two women, and even made mention to the non-verbal young man as he was interested in some items at the checkout counter. In the back of my mind, I wanted to treat this precious family as I would treat any other family waiting in line behind me. This is their normal, and I wanted to speak into that normal with respect and kindness that mirrored Christ.

Conversely, how the tables turn in our society when we turn our attentions to the weaknesses and struggles not of the handicapped, but of Hollywood. I am referring to the supermarket tabloids or the numerous magazine and online publications which document each love interest and divorce as they rise and fall concerning the beautiful actors and actresses, athletes and reality TV stars, the musicians and entertainers of our day. Now there are some beautiful people we just love to stare at as we itemize their lists of shortcomings and failures. We love to psychoanalyze their problems and insufficiencies in order to…in order to what? Make ourselves feel better? “See, even all that wealth and beauty doesn’t make people happy,” so our logic cries.

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In both instances—the handicapped and those in the public eye—the reason we either turn away or are drawn to the circus of the tabloids is weakness. We are all very weak human beings. Whether it is the people with disabilities we uneasily turn away from, or the tabloids we stare at in the supermarket checkout, we cannot escape the reality that we are all fragile people in need of a solid Savior.

Our outward weaknesses point to our inward need for Christ and His Kingdom.

I have several friends who have children with diagnosed disabilities. In addition, as a speech-language pathologist, I have worked with many children who have disabilities. Each child is unique and special and bears the Imago Dei, the image of God. Their disabilities don’t define them; their Creator does. They are each individuals with a diagnosis, not a population of disorders. Similarly, each celebrity is not a cookie-cutter entertainer or performer; they are individuals who have made life choices and embraced opportunities for which they have obtained successes. They too bear the Imago Dei—whether or not they recognize or honor the God whose image they bear.

Birth defects and debilitating diseases are a result of the fall of man and the curse on the earth. However, God purposefully uses even these tragedies to bring Him glory and to call people to Him. Consider what Jesus said to the disciples concerning a man born blind, “it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3)

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Beyond our physical and mental limitations lies a soul. Each soul is created for a purpose: to bring glory and honor to God. The hurting among us encompasses an all-inclusive population; one which is not limited by borders merely to the visibly weakest among us. We are all fragile. If not for Christ, we would all be marginalized and disregarded due to our sin. Because of Christ we are now beneficiaries of the Kingdom of God. (See Romans 8:16)

So rather than ignore or quickly turn away, perhaps there is a better way. Perhaps we can acknowledge them with a smile, a nod of the head, maybe even an offer to help when appropriate. Regardless, when we see the marginalized, we should remember that we are seeing an image-bearer of God, someone beautifully and wonderfully made.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 1 Corinthians 12:9-10, ESV

Brooke Cooney is a pastor's wife, mother of two, and foster-mom of one. To capture the eternal in the everyday, she blogs about family, faith, and lessons along the journey at ThisTemporaryHome.com.

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