As time passes, the beauty of some things fades, while the beauty of others increases. Flowers bloom and wither, material things tarnish, pulchritude ages and wrinkles. Nothing tangible lasts forever, and we must adjust to change, including the change in value we attach to what we desire and cherish.
There is a beauty that has increased profoundly for me over the years: that is the marvel and appreciation of the different gifts that God gives to different people. The more I know myself, the more profound is my wonder and admiration for capacities and talents of others. When I was younger and less secure, my limitations were things to be denied, hidden, and resented. I competed and pretended to have the talents of others. As I often fell short of the mark, I wandered into a thicket of self-absorption and envy. Why can't I be like so-and-so? Why aren't I taller, thinner, etc.? Along with this frustration and resentment, I became dismissive of other people's gifts and prideful about my own. My talents are better and more useful than theirs. Not surprisingly, this attitude led to isolation and loneliness.
Under the grace of God's leadership, I have come to increasingly appreciate and enjoy the diverse attributes and abilities of others. Through life experiences and my professional skills in the assessment of abilities, I savor how one person can build or repair machines, while another can paint and another can sew. For me, it is no longer the idolization of star performers, but rather the commonplace distribution of diversity that captures my adulation. Moreover, I am increasingly aware of and comfortable with my dependence on teamwork and the abilities of others to get things done in my life. Where would I be without the specialists, both menial and professional, whom I turn to for mundane solutions, care and service, labor and guidance? Could I build roads and bridges, fix my own teeth, bring crops from afar, design computers, or even have the patience and knowhow to tend the bedridden?
No, I have been given a small set of gifts that I have learned to hone and value and offer to others. Fortunately, these gifts prove useful; they are more so when I blend them with the work and proclivities of others. For we are interconnected in a grand design that paradoxically highlights and humbles the unique gifts apportioned to individuals.
Scripture speaks of individual gifts and combined utility by using analogies of the physical body and community. This is beautifully described by the apostle Paul in 1Corinthians 12:
Just as the body, though one, has many parts, but all of its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized with one Spirit so as to form one body-whether Jew or Gentiles, slave or free-and we were all given the one spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Now if the foot should say, "because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason stop being a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body, it would not for that reason stop being a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:12-26.
I have read this passage many times. Yet recently, I was struck by one phrase: not for that reason&ellip;, it would not for that reason stop being a part of the body.
Suddenly, I had an epiphany, an "aha" moment! I was reminded, tangentially, of a notable Winston Churchill quote: "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened." I had just stumbled over the impact of the phrase, not for that reason.
The idea is this: the body is composed of interrelated and necessary parts. Should one part disassociate or declare itself not part of the body, it wouldnot for that reasonstop being a part of the body, necessary and unique, as God has designed and apportioned.
The analogy is straightforward and obvious, but the implications are extensive and profound. Just as the foot cannot secede from the body because it is not a hand and the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!", a person cannot disassociate himself from others because he feels disconnected from them or that he is superior or inferior to them. In other words, we are all part of and responsible for each other, regardless of our position or perceived importance in a hierarchy.
The person who says, "Because I am not smart enough or good enough, I do not belong," wouldnot for that reason stop belonging. One part of the body (i.e., a person or group of people) cannot say to another "I don't need you!"
Let the message from 1Corinthians 12 echo in your mind and heart:
God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body&ellip; On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
This is fantastic news for those who feel depressed, alienated, inferior, and so forth. This biblical truth means that youare valuable and do belong, regardless of your self-estimation or the judgment of others. If you have an opinion about yourself in relation to others that makes you conclude that you are not worthy enough or do not belong, you wouldnot for that reason be less worthy or cease to belong.
Furthermore, the body (the human body and by, extension, the Church and other communities) bears a corporate responsibility to care for and honor all parts of the body belonging to it. Additionally, certain members deserve special honor and special treatment due to their weakness and presentability.
In reality, we cannot withdraw from connectedness based upon perceptions and feelings. Conversely, we cannot dismiss or abandon the value of others,not for that reason. The key concepts are belonging, protection, interdependence, security, and responsibility. The implications of scripture are clear, profound, and joyous.
Regardless of who you are, where you are in life, how much or how little you have, how healthy or sick or young or old you are, you belong here, and you belong to others. If you think others do not care or have wronged you,not for that reason would you stop mattering or belonging to others-family, friends, community, even passers by who notice and interact with you. You may have experienced trauma and feelings of hopelessness, abandonment, and/or despair. Butnot for that reason would you cease to belong and to matter. You are part of the body.
Not only do you matter, but your uniqueness counts-your gifts, problems, weaknesses, and special circumstances. God created you and he has a place for you, although you may not like or appreciate it for a given time. You have a special role to play, and you are included in the suffering, joy, struggling, service, and ups and downs that are a part of every life. You are precious to God, and you have value in the eyes of others. Look around. Find who loves you, needs you, and how they notice and care about you. If you have doubts,not for that reason would you lack immense value.
As the eye needs the hand and the head needs the foot, so, too, do you need others and they need you. People are often hard to deal with, and they can be cruel and dismissive. But God designed the parts of the body to work together:
&ellip;there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
There are times when certain parts don't work or are absent. Butnot for that reason is the need for and dependence upon other parts diminished. It is this need that reminds us of belonging and value.
For these reasons, we bear a shared responsibility to work together and seek each other's welfare. You may be intact and feel self-sufficient. Wonderful! Butnot for that reason would you be relieved of your duty to others. You may be without resources or attributes you desire, and it may be heartbreaking! Butnot for that reason are you exempt from serving others or receiving grace and service. You are not alone, and you are neither excluded nor exclusive.
Finally, no matter where you are, no matter what your circumstances or deeds, you are entitled to care and protection,according to God's word. To realize and fulfill this blessing, however, you must accept what God says and act upon it. Pragmatically, it's a two-way street: others value and do for you, and you value and do for others. God's divine roadmap is a two-way street: he reaches out to us as the initiator, and we must respond by following the path toward him. Interestingly, it is by following God's roadmap that we are led to others, and by traveling with others, we draw closer to God.
God has overcome the world. You may feel overwhelmed,not for that reason are you isolated or without the love, protection, care, and belonging that God has designed and proclaimed for those who will claim them.
From the intimate, personal stirrings and anxieties within each of us to the complex social and global interactions that conflict and challenge us-we must remember and act upon the interconnectedness and responsibility of the body. God does not let us forget or act alone.