One afternoon, as I got out of my car to enter the library, I saw it. What you need when you cannot see.
A woman got out of the car next to me and met a man on the other side. He was carrying a red-tipped white cane, the sign that he was blind. The woman got next to him, and he put his hand on her shoulder. As she walked, he walked beside her.
Several years ago, my congregation hosted a blind speaker. He gave me one of the best instructions of my life. He needed some help getting on the rostrum, but he needed to show me how. Most people, he explained, get behind a blind person, take them by the shoulders, and push in a direction.
He told me the right way to help someone who cannot see.
You come beside them and let them touch you while they walk beside you. That tip resurrected itself in my mind at the library.
Physical blindness is frightening. , Life forces you to navigate in complete darkness. The blind person does not know their direction or the obstacles in their way.
It is not only the blind who cannot see. A person with 20/20 eyesight cannot see his way in life. He gets lost and confused. It happens when tears of grief brim in the eye. A job loss can create the feeling of “I’m not worth anything.” Life doesn’t make sense.
Then we need someone to help.
It is then we have to decide how to help.
For some, they use the “hands on shoulders and shove” method. They give advice. Here’s what you need to do. It’s simple. Follow my directions, and you will be fine…and they stumble in their confusion. Advice can be correct and insulting at the moment. (I like the term for this, “true but useless.”)
You have heard fruitless advice, especially when someone has lost a loved one. Our discomfort at knowing what to say pushes the wrong words out of our mouths.
- It was God’s will.
- Cheer up…it will get better.
- They are in a better place.
They may be true in some way, but they don’t comfort, help, or guide. The snow blindness of life’s blizzard continues.
Then, there’s the other way. Confused and struggling people need someone’s shoulder to lay their hand on to guide them. It is gentle. It is helpful. It is effective.
Life’s reversals drive you to spiritual blindness.
People grow weary. They don’t see their work as valued or even valuable. They may believe no one notices. They believe life is stacked against them and there is no reason to go on. People quit jobs, end marriages, and invite “the black dog of depression” (to borrow Churchill’s term) to live in their hearts.
That’s when you and I need a shoulder.
What does the “shoulder” look like?
We need someone to notice, to care, to just say “I love you.” We need someone with perspective to help us escape the keyhole view of life and see the expanse.
Whatever the remedy, it has to come in the form of a shoulder people can lay their life on for guidance. Proximity, concern, and compassion make up the bone and sinew of spiritual care.
Paul knew the value of the mutual “shoulder.” To the Thessalonian Christians (where he only spent 3 weeks), he heard of their confusion over someone dying and their destiny. He knew of circling vultures ready to swoop on their faith. So he told them:
A quick review of my own life reminds me how many shoulders I have held onto. Some helped me see me better. Others gave me a perspective I had lost. Some were there when the word “quit” was written in capital letters.
Most never knew of the guidance they gave or the change they made. The people who silently helped me never realized the hand on their shoulder really needed it then.
You don’ have to see someone with a red-tipped white cane to help someone who cannot see. Look around. Listen with your heart. All need a “shoulder” at times to hang onto and guide us.
Is your shoulder available?