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God's Hidden Treasures
by Diane Eaton


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In the past, many an adventurous person has bravely embarked on a quest in search of some hidden treasure. Actually, I think that everyone is on a quest in search of some kind of treasure. They are seeking a path in life that they believe will lead to success and happiness. To me, this quest is a lot like a competitive race because those who are the strongest, smartest, and who can run the fastest get the best of the treasure - the best that life has to offer.

However, there are some who will always be losers in this competitive race of life. They will always lag behind, never having any hope of achieving a successful career or material means. They are our challenged ones who, through misfortune or poor choices or because of age, cannot keep up with the rest. They have some kind of disadvantage. They may be developmentally challenged. Or perhaps they are challenged (disabled) physically, mentally or emotionally. We refer to them as 'special needs' people because, in some way, their survival depends on the help of others. Maybe they are also special for another reason - a reason that is less obvious. Perhaps they hold a key to some treasure for us - treasure that is hidden and that few discover - treasure that can make our entire society stronger and healthier.

Disraeli, a former Prime Minster of England, believed that the strength of a society is measured by how it takes care of its marginal people - that is, those who cannot keep up to the mainstream. You may be wondering, but aren't those people a burden to society, and a drain on its energy and resources? Don't they slow us down in our own race towards achievement and societal advancement?

Exactly - and that is the point! I believe that their "disadvantage" is the very means by which they can actually make us a better society. They are like big bumps on our path. They force us to stop, turn around, and face them.

When we become frustrated or impatient with them, we have an opportunity to recognize our own need to become more patient and more sensitive. When we are tempted to see them as inferior to ourselves we have an opportunity to face our arrogance. When we find ourselves looking down on them, we discover our own prejudices. When they embarrass us, we recognize our self-centered tendencies. When we feel frustrated and unable to fix their problems, we humbly face our own limitations and helplessness. Special needs people teach us to put humans ahead of material possessions.

We all want to keep our world as happy and carefree as possible, but alas - there are these people who expose us to pain and neediness. When we try to empathize with them, we experience our own negative emotions such as sadness, hurt, frustration, and loneliness. We discover that under all the layers of their 'unloveliness', there is a precious human spirit who yearns to be loved and to be needed. We develop tender, caring hearts that can identify with the pain of feeling unwanted and different.

We then can respond by reaching out with compassion. And that is what makes us better people. Caring people make a stronger society.

When we allow ourselves to be touched by these 'special needs' people, we discover that they have precious hidden qualities and talents that can give us joy. We will never discover that hidden treasure so long as we are too absorbed in our own race.

While working with the developmentally challenged, I met a very special lady. She was in a wheel chair, crippled-up with severe Cerebral Palsy. She was unable to care for any of her needs. She could not talk. Because of facial muscle deformity she could not chew properly. When you fed her, you both had to wear a bib. You'd get pureed food sprayed all over you because she would sputter and cough while trying to eat.

Before I got to know her, I thought that she was not connecting with anything that was going on around her. I even wondered what possible reason there could be for her to be alive. I was very astonished when I later learned that she had written a book about her life's experiences. It had taken her seven years to finish that book. She had typed the letters on a specially designed message board that had been fixed onto her wheelchair. It was an awkward task that required much patience. In the book she expressed many of her painful experiences - for instance, when she felt like an inconvenience. She also shared about happy times - like when others befriended her. Most of all, she shared her joy of knowing that she was a gift from God.

One day while I was feeding her tea, (a slow and tedious job), I wondered what it would be like to be her. I also thought of the immense patience she must have developed for her caregivers (me being one of them). I commented to her. "You are teaching me about patience". I could tell by her eyes that she understood me.

She taught me that we cannot know what's on the inside of a person merely by looking on their outside or their lot in life. I needed that lady just as much as she needed me.

Jesus once told the well-known story of "The Good Samaritan" [Luke 10]. In those days the Samaritans were regarded as an inferior race. The Jews despised them. In the story, a Samaritan man who is traveling on a journey, encounters a beaten-up stranger on the roadside and stops to help. Just prior to that, two religious "upright" men had walked right past the victim, leaving him in the ditch. Jesus used this story to explain what love really is. Love is giving value to other humans, regardless of their lot in life. This is true religion. The Jews, whom Jesus was addressing, had assumed that they were God's best ones. However they had failed to love. It was actually the Samaritan who was practicing true religion.

Mother Theresa chose true religion by giving up her position of prestige and security, and by identifying with the destitute. In caring for them she allowed her heart to be touched by them. In the midst of poverty she found God's hidden treasure.

Some people assist the needy by giving financially, and by creating good programs for them. But if this is all we do, we fail to touch their deeper need, which is the need to be valued and to have dignity. Those needs can only be met by relating to them as equals. On that level, we can make a deep connection with them. Then, and only then will we be rewarded with real treasure - treasure that is hidden deep inside them.

We can all contribute by acknowledging the value of the disadvantaged and the helpless, and for that matter, anyone who is a 'bump' in our path (or 'lying in the ditch'). And when we recognize their human value, we discover God's hidden treasures, treasures that make us better people and a stronger society.

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*About Image: From Brazil, this highly faceted rock crystal (quartz) egg is 7,000 carats. From the Gem and Mineral Collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History (Courtesy of the Smithsonian imaging site)

 

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