I am feeling anxious this month, and I think I know the reasons why. High on the list is that my wife and I are about to drive our first-born child all the way across the country to college. Not only is he is our first child, a boy, but he has a disability. Even though he's fully capable of taking care of himself, and this is definitely an exciting milestone, I will naturally still worry about him. And let me tell you, paying for college is something I will never get used to!
Another worry on my mind concerns one of my mentors Joni Erikson-Tada. Joni, who has done more for the physically disabled community than anyone else I can think of, is battling breast cancer. If you aren't aware who Joni is, she has an eternally optimistic spirit, even though she's been in a wheelchair with quadriplegia since a diving accident that occurred when she was 17. (You can peruse Joni's blog at http://www.joniandfriends.org/jonis-corner/
Part of my anxiety also stems from seeing some of my friends, with whom I worked side-by-side at a previous ministry, let go due to a lack of funds. Dozens of ministries, many of them doing incredibly important things for disadvantaged people, are struggling financially. It's difficult watching them being forced to scale back. Fortunately for us at Need Project, we have never had enough funds to be anything but scaled back, so we don’t really have to worry about a down economy.
Speaking of which, some of my apprehension might be because of the economy. It can be frustrating to watch governments on the local, state, and federal levels struggle with a perceived lack of funds; the first programs they cut are the very services needed by individuals and families with disabilities. Do you think government officials would take a cut in pay to help a family in need? Call me cynical, but I doubt it.
Wherever my current state of unease is coming from, the fact is that I know many others who are affected by one or more of the things above. It seems that countless friends are feeling overwhelmed by their circumstances.
The really sad thing is that as I travel through life at full speed, it seems I have less and less time to slow down and help my friends. Did a time really exist when all the townspeople would help build a new barn for a neighbor whose barn had been reduced to ashes? If so, I’m not sure it does any longer.
A friend recently told me about a difficult time in his life. Out of work for an extended time period, he was doing everything he could to find a job, to no avail. Arriving home one day, he found bags of groceries on his front step. He correctly attributed this kindness to God, but at the same time, whoever left the gift should be recognized as someone who was both in tune with God and his neighbor.
If I am running faster than the speed of sound, how will I be able to hear anything? It can be difficult to stop and take the time to help my friends and neighbors, but it's something I need to do. There was a time, long ago, when most Americans lived in rural communities. People were more in tune with their neighbors, partly because everyone saw each other at church on Sunday and all the children in town went to the same one-room school. If hard times struck anyone, it was common knowledge and everyone came to help.
But it's just not like that anymore. Now, upon hearing that a friend is let go from work, I might call and talk to him on the phone for a few minutes. But do I meet with him for lunch, or even follow-up in a week or a month to see how he is doing? Sadly, the answer is usually no. It’s not that I'm intentionally being callous. The problem is that I am running so fast I have a hard time remembering to grab my lunch on the kitchen table in the morning, much less my friend who's in need.
An underlying cause of anxiety in people in general might simply be that most of us are afraid of being completely on our own if something bad happens to us. This is why I feel it's so important for all of us to get back in tune to what is happening to those around us. If we do, a natural outcome will be that we'll spend more time assisting others in need. If we slow down enough to help our neighbors, we won’t be the only one swinging the hammer when our own barn burns down.