Monday, May 29, 2017

Paying Attention

Happy is the one that considers the poor…” (Psalm 41:1).

Hark! Hark! The dogs do bark,
The beggars are coming to town.
Some in rags and some in tags,
And some in silken gown.

Some folks are poor in possessions and appearance; others in faith, hope and love. Even if we can’t alleviate the poverty of those we meet along the way we can “consider” them—a verb that means, “to pay attention.” 

G.K. Chesterton defines a saint as one that exaggerates what the world neglects, and what is neglected today is the art of paying attention. Few people seem to be aware of the pain around them; they go their way inattentive and unmoved. “The love of many has grown cold.”

In such a world it’s not hard to find some want to supply, some misery to alleviate. A divorcee or widow, grief–stricken in her loneliness. A weary parent kept awake at night by the struggles of a hurting child. A frightened man awaiting cancer surgery in the morning. A care–worn checker in a grocery store working a second or third job to make ends meet. A young boy who’s never had enough father. A single mother whose flood of worries has washed her hope away. A lonely old man who has outlived his usefulness, or so he believes. A hurting heart behind your own front door.

Perhaps we don’t have much to give, but we can pay attention. We can see beyond what others see to the possibilities of mercy, compassion and understanding. John Newton wrote on one occasion, “If, as I go home, a child has dropped a halfpenny, and if, by giving another, I can wipe away its tears, I feel I have done something. I should be glad to do greater things, but I will not neglect this.”

Author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia once talked about a contest he was asked to judge. The purpose of the contest was to find a caring child. The winner was a four–year–old whose next–door neighbor was an elderly gentleman that had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his mother asked him what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.” 

Indeed. We can help people cry. We can shows them in other ways that we care.  We can ask them to tell their stories and listen patiently while they do. We can treat them with courtesy and respect, though they may be testy or tiresome. We can encourage those with aching hearts with a word of God’s mercy and love. We can follow up with an e-mail, a card or a call. And We can pray with them, the most helpful and healing act of all, for in prayer we bring others to the throne of mercy where they find “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). 

And here’s where the beatitude comes into play, for in the oldest and oddest paradox of all, paying attention pays off, for we’re happiest when we give our lives away. Think of those who think only of themselves, who grasp and grab and play it safe. The life they save is the life they lose. In the end it’s worth nothing to anyone including themselves, a featureless, lifeless parody of those who have lived and cared for others. “Only a life given away for love’s sake is worth living,” says Fredrick Buechner.

The realm of happiness is easily entered: “Consider the poor.”

David Roper

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