Faith, fatherless, Hope, Uncategorized

Loving the Least of These

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I write this with tears in my eyes as I contemplate the phrase “loving the least of these.”

We are in an exciting new season of life. A season of love and marriage. A season of newness. A season of promises fulfilled. A season of trials and growth. A season of watching God do what only He can do.

But the excitement of this new season has also ushered in a season of learning to love one who can sometimes be unlovable. A season of struggling to accept opposition and defiance. A season of attempting to help one who doesn’t want help.

As I sat in church this week after a difficult weekend, I kept hearing God say, “Love the least of these.” After what I’ve just experienced in the last few hours, I don’t like that command. I want to give up, quit trying. I want to simply put the unlovable away.

And yet I must ask myself how many times have I been the unlovable? How many times have I been the least of these? How many times have I been undeserving of my Father’s love?

But He never stopped loving me.

And I pray God will give me the strength to love the least of these in my own life, those who need mt love more than anyone else.

As I contemplate the least of these, I wonder just exactly who God is referring to. Maybe it’s different for each of us. Maybe for you, it’s a difficult person at work. Maybe for others, it’s the addict in your family. Maybe it’s the wayward child who constantly hurts you. Maybe it’s the difficult ex-spouse who continually heaps pain upon you.

For me, I think of three categories of people that have impacted my life in drastic ways. Three categories that are often neglected, shunned even at church. Three categories you may know.

The divorced. As a divorced Christian, I know how isolating it can be to wear the scarlet letter D around my neck for all the world to see. The divorced lose so much: half our friends, half our finances, half of the time with our children. We lose reputations and careers and the sheer will to keep living. We experience a rejection and betrayal of the deepest, most intimate type. We lose our past and our future.

And many times we lose our church. The church turns against us, alienating us even further because of our public “sin.” We are told we didn’t pray hard enough, love well enough, persevere long enough. We are publicly humiliated for our sins, even when our “sins” were loving someone who chose to walk away.

Yet God’s words are clear: love the least of these. Reach out and extend a hand of love and grace. Be a listening ear for the divorced as they process one of the most painful hurts this life can hand them. Lavish them with gifts of caring and concern: home-cooked meals and financial assistance and baby-sitting. Offer them words of encouragement to help soothe their battered souls.

Simply love them, show them the grace of God so freely bestowed upon all of us, so undeserved by all of us.

People struggling with mental illness. I have a dear, dear friend whose life has been filled with the struggle of loving a child with a mental illness. So many times her heart has shattered as her son has struggled with the demons that have haunted him since childhood. She’s wondered if he would survive the night, the latest suicide attempt.

I’ve sat with her as tears streamed down her face, watching as her son was ostracized—by family, by friends, by the church. I’ve listened as she poured out her heart, the overwhelming pain of wondering when, how God will answer her prayers. And I’ve watched as she continually rises above the ashes, asking God to use her pain to help others who are walking the same path.

How do we love the least of these? We include them instead of ostracizing them. We choose to embrace rather than keep at arms’ length. We surround them, their families, with love and prayer. We seek to understand the demons, the pain that drive them to the edge. We speak words of compassion rather than words of disgust and disappointment. We stand close, embracing them, loving them to the end.

Special needs children and their families. This one has become near and dear to my heart, even though it seems to be the most challenging one for me right now. Do you know the struggle of raising a special needs child? Do you know the physical and emotional weight of caring for a disabled child? Do you know what it is to never be able to get away from the demands? Do you know the impact on other children in the home?

I am just now learning the magnitude of living with a special needs child all the time. It is draining. From bathing and dressing and taking her to the bathroom and feeding her and meeting every need she has, every moment of every day. And then add the struggle of her adjustment to a new situation, a new home, a new school. I know she is overwhelmed.

How do we love the least of these? Create a special needs program at your church so the family can attend service without caring for the child. Have a special evening of activities to celebrate the special needs children while the families take a much needed evening off. Start a support group (complete with child care) to allow the families to connect with other families in the same situation. There are so many ways to be the hands and feet of Christ to the families of special needs children.

I know there are many other categories of the least of these. Maybe the ones I’ve mentioned don’t resonate with you because it’s not your heart, your passion, your experience. That’s fine. Find the category that impacts you, an area where you are passionate. Maybe it’s foster kids or addicts or veterans. Maybe it’s kids who have lost parents or siblings or parents who have lost children. Maybe it’s inmates and their families. Maybe it’s people of another race that you feel called to minister to. It doesn’t matter. Just love them.

Reach out and share the love of Christ with some of the least of these.

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4 thoughts on “Loving the Least of These”

  1. I am one of the least of these. Divorced left out at church. I have an ex husband-gay who has heavily influenced my children. I have a severely disabled child who is grown up in age but not in mentality, I have a drug recovering soon who had schizophrenia, two daughters who have rejected me for reasons unknown from one of them. It has been hard to cling on. I have learned to be compassionate to the disabled both df challenged and mentally ill. I keep living them even though it hurts. I have one lifelong , almost , friend who has accepted me through it all. Too bad the church doesn’t do the same. I hope God sees I am faithful and tried to do the best I could. I appreciate your openness Dena.

  2. Hi Dena!
    Your recent post resonated deeply in my heart. The one paragraph that totally caught my eye is “People struggling with mental illnes.” I know firsthand of living with severe mental illness and going for electric shock treatments , the extreme excruciating mental pain of deep agony and clinging barely to life at the same time. Dena, it was I who experienced the illness of the worst kind. I suffered from extreme depression, anxiety, and panic attacks . I was in and out of treatments and suffered extreme loneliness and thinking I might break at any moment. I felt fragile and so scared. I also had to take care of my only teenaged son as a single parent. I had a elderly woman at my church who did the best she can even though she never went through what I had experienced.
    She was not there for me all the time because she lived with her family and I understood. I felt very much alone living with my young son and my closest friend could not comfort me because she had her own problems to deal with. I was very grateful that my ex-husband’ s new wife drove me to get the ECT treatments that I desperately needed to save my sanity. It was the most painful experience that I had ever suffered in my life. I was told that most people in my situation would not have made it through. For about 5 long years I struggled with all kinds of medications and treatments until the right medicine was discovered. When it deals with your mind, it is very difficult to treat because of the complexity of the brain and all its neurons that has to be in sync with the exact amount of serotonin, dopamine, and other brain chemicals.
    You studied nursing and you know that the brain is a fragile organ . It directs every other activity – sleeping, eating, thinking and processing information, digestion, solving problems and functioning at school, home, and the daily challenges in life including taking care of my son.
    I was a baby Christian and I did not realize at the time that God was holding me together and keeping His eye on me.
    Yes, I am doing very well taking the right medications and enjoying life fully. But it took me a very long time to get there.
    That is why I am so passionate about helping people with all kinds of mental illness -especially depression and anxiety.
    People in this world treat it has a stigma .
    That you need to snap out of it or that you are somehow weird and flawed. Even some nurses and doctors degrade you and get so tired of helping you when they cannot find the right treatments. I have seen and heard nurses yelling at patients when they should be compassionate, understanding, and patient toward the sufferings in this world.
    Denna, I have seen that these nurses do not understand unless they have walked in our shoes.
    I thank you Dena that you are one of the most compassionate and caring nurse that this society so desperately needs. We need more nurses who reflects your Christ -like character, deep compassion, patience, and understanding that this hurting world needs to see.

    Thank you for this very interesting post!
    Kayla
    Your sister in Christ

  3. I know all of these. I’m a child of divorce and as an adult, I gravitated towards the single moms (and their children) to shower love on them ( I would take the kids out to do groceries etc with me to give them one on one attention).
    Like you I know many friends who are struggling with mental illnesses ( in them and/or near family).
    I’m the mom of a special needs child ( along with a neurotypical one ) and I can relate. Being a caregiver is taxing plus taking care of the other child. My husband and I always wish for understanding ( and complete ) childcare, so that we can get some time to worship together.

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