Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.
Today I met a woman with a story that stung.
Her daughter gave birth to her first grandchild, a beautiful boy. Sheer joy. But immediately the problems started. The little boy could not suck or swallow. After days of tests and anguish, during which the infant was on a feeding tube, the child was diagnosed with a disease called Moebius syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that primarily affects the muscles that control facial expression and eye movement. The person cannot smile, frown, or lift the eyebrows. It’s a kind of paralysis that left this infant unable to suck or swallow.
After weeks in the hospital, the infant finally went home with a feeding tube. The parents were in shock, and the daughter reached out to her mother who was staying with them for a few weeks. “We need some help,” the daughter said. “I think we need a community. I think we should try to go to church.” The mother, who works in the church, set out to find a church in their area. She found a small congregation, and on Sunday morning they all went to church. Mother, father, three year-old daughter, this infant in arms—and the grandmother. Her son-in-law, she told me, was carrying a Bible that his father had sent him.
“We walked into that little church, all five of us” she told me, “and you couldn’t miss us. We had this bundle of a baby and a huge bag full of all the feeding apparatus for this child, tubes dangling down. And the shock for me was, no one said a word to us, coming or going. No one said hello. No one said boo.”
That stung me. It was not my congregation, but of course it could have been. I know the folks in that little church who crushed the hearts of five people that Sunday. They are not bad people. They were not trying to be cruel. They just saw a lovely little family and thought all was well. Nothing needed here.
We must remember that everyone we see is in need, even if they don’t appear to be. Maybe especially if they don’t appear to be. We don’t have to figure out their troubles and find them a solution or an answer; we only have to smile and put out a hand of friendship and compassion. God takes it from there.
It will never work to offer kindness only to those who ‘clearly need it.’ Whole families in crisis will walk right past us. Agonizers wearing polite smiles will slip by every time. We must assume, as Ian MacLaren assures us, that every person we meet is “carrying a heavy burden.” Nine times out of ten we will never know about that burden, but a simple act of kindness will matter nonetheless. Human beings can bear almost any burden so long as they believe they are not alone.
That’s where you come in. Don’t try to figure out who needs a little help or encouragement in your world today. Just put it out there for everyone. “In this world,” as someone once said, “you must be a bit too kind to be kind enough.”