We were a little early to the morning church service, giving me a moment or two to get settled in my chair and look around me. It's easy to people-watch in a church as large as ours; I looked about for a few familiar faces to greet while my husband went to look for a friend outside.
It was then that I spotted a blonde teenager and her mother slowly making their way to the row in front of me. My interest in the girl was piqued first by the sight of her crutches, and then by a black hinged brace on her leg very similar to the one I wore protecting my elbow, only bigger. Because of that brace connection I found myself drawn to her, wondering in what way she had injured herself and how her recovery was coming along. When the “meet and greet” time in the service arrived, I moved a little closer and asked.
“I tore up everything in my knee,” was her reply. We chatted for a minute about recovery and laughed over her success in getting her jeans on this morning so she could come to church. The moment passed and the church service continued, but I likewise continued to gaze around me. I was suddenly astonished at what I saw. Seated a few rows in front of the girl was a woman who had her entire right forearm and wrist wrapped in white gauze, holding it gingerly in front of her. A man in the next section had a cart beside him holding his oxygen tank, the tubes from it running into his nose so he could breathe. To my left was a guy in an arm brace similar to mine who carried himself in such a way as to suggest it was perhaps shoulder surgery that required the arm support. One after another I saw people around me with bandages and wraps, and marveled at what a banged-up bunch of believers we were that morning! Did I miss the “recently hospitalized” seating designation in our section perhaps?
Instead I later realized that God was just trying to make a point, illustrating it in a way I would understand. My attention was drawn to these people in particular because we had a common condition that I could understand and relate to. But truly everybody in that building came in with wounds they are in the process of recovering from, because all of us have experienced trouble to some degree. Some have physical wounds like the one s that were so visible to me, but probably most carried hurts on the inside where they are less obvious but equally painful. For some the pain is still fresh, the hurt intense, while others are moving along well in recovery and still others have only the scars to show what they've been through. The point is that we have a common cause that unites us and gives purpose to our days as we strive to help and encourage each other on our way through this life.
Normally I find it difficult to talk to people I don't know, but the sight of that familiar hinged brace on the girl's leg propelled me to overcome my timidity and address her. That same morning I was coming out of the restroom when another woman spotted my arm brace as she was coming in. “I wore one of those! What did you do to your arm?” She went on to tell me that she had done the exact same thing and that she had made it through and was now fully functional back on her job, words I needed to hear at a time when I was wondering if complete recuperation was possible. Her encouragement made a big difference to me that day.
Time after time, complete strangers have seen my brace and asked me about my arm, and I have appreciated their interest and concern. Yet God's concern is for those who are struggling with the less visible injuries; He desires that we become more diligent in looking for signs of suffering and reach out to those we can relate to based on what we ourselves have gone through. It's how the addicts among us find recovery, the lonely find fellowship, the confused find direction...the lost get found. If we carry Jesus in our hearts, we have the Answer that somebody else needs, if we just took the time to notice the question in their eyes.
“...He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us...”
(1 Corinthians 2:4 MSG)