In this journal entry, Rev. Thurman relays having visited an acquaintance, a blind man, who said when he met new people, they often made out that he was worse off than they because he was blind. One man introduced him as the speaker of a meeting and urged the group to give him a ‘very courteous hearing’ because, after all, they were blessed with their eyesight.” The host apparently thought being blind was a hinderance to be pitied.
I think today’s societies don’t consider blind people as pitiful, certainly there are many blind or visually impaired people who live fully, support themselves and their family and, make great contributions to society. We’ve come a long way since the 1950s when Thurman was writing this journal.
But, I got to thinking of other situations where we might feel compelled to pity but in which it might be ill placed. I recall a story my pastor’s wife told after returning from the Congo on a mission trip. Donna was telling us how the people in the village, where they were working as a medical team for a week, were very poor and had nothing. But they gave amazing praise and witness for God’s faithfulness! She wondered, to one of the women with whom she’d become closer that week, how they could praise God so exuberantly when they didn’t have much in the way of material goods. After all, they lived in poor housing (from an American perspective), had little to eat, didn’t have consistent medical care, had minimal clothes to choose from, etc. The woman apparently looked at my friend and fretted asking “How do you find God with all your stuff?” And there in a nutshell was a lesson, with all of our material goods (and our concern with getting them and keeping them) where is there room for God?
My friend was feeling sorry for this lady and the lady felt bad for my friend for the handicapping circumstance of being ‘burdened’ with a her material wealth. My friend’s pity was ill placed for this woman who felt blessed and was able to give God glory in the simplicity of an unfettered, unconditional life.
I am learning to resist judging someone’s situation or patterns of living that differs from mine — as if they should live like me, value what I value, have my priorities, and temper their passions and commitments like I do. I try to see the marvel of diversity in the way other people manage the world we all live in because God has created so many different people (no two are EXACTLY alike) — to be in the world for different reasons, in different cultures, with different means of being. And, even so, we all are God’s children.