by Stephanie O. Hubach
I saw the rage in his eyes and heard myself thinking, No...o...o...o...! but it was too late. Five-year-old Freddy, protecting his younger brother, unleashed his fury on two taunting girls in the shallow end of the pool. Honestly, I think he meant to create the community pool version of a tidal wave. But his force behind the water turned into a full-fledged slap across their faces.
Freddy's brother, Timmy, who has Down syndrome, had been standing poolside, wonderfully excited about the prospect of going swimming. At age 3, he sometimes expressed emotional overload by flapping his arms, opening his mouth and blinking his eyes repeatedly. However, this time two little girls decided that Timmy's behavior was entertaining and began to laugh, point at and imitate him. Apparently, it was more than Freddy's justice-oriented personality could handle. He drew back his arm and swiftly administered the due penalty.
Within seconds, Freddy received his own share of compassionate justice for hitting two young ladies. Struggling with his first exposure to public, intentional disrespect toward Timmy, Freddy experienced a very teachable moment. While his response to the mocking girls was inappropriate, Freddy had rightly recognized disrespect when he saw it.
An indelible image
What do you first envision when you think of respect? High regard for those in authority? Honor for the elderly? Maybe esteem for a person's noteworthy accomplishments or for his ability to persevere? The Bible indeed teaches that individuals in positions of authority, those who have seen many days and people who live their lives in an admirable fashion are worthy of our respect. But there is something much deeper and inherently more central to the concept of respect: the glory of God imprinted into the essence of man. In encountering any person, we ought to marvel at all of the things that are good and admirable and beautiful about them (Philippians 4:8).
Let's be honest. How many of us respond to our closest family and friends this way? When was the last time you looked at your children and stood in awe of the glory of God within them? How about your spouse?
What's your view of strangers who have special needs? When you are in a hurry, and a cashier with obvious developmental disabilities slowly attempts to count your change, do you first and foremost see the glory of God? Or if you are at a restaurant and a man with cerebral palsy drools on his shirt at the table next to you, is your first realization one of wonder and honor?
It takes conscious effort to appreciate the most fundamental blessing of creation―that we are all created in the image of God―and to gaze speechlessly at His goodness, truth and beauty in others. We need to search for His glory in each individual until we find it, and then we need to celebrate it!
Unfortunately, our culture often measures personal value as a function of productivity. The degree to which we are able to contribute to society is the degree to which we are valued. In God's economy, however, human value is defined by the Creator himself through the imprint of His image in mankind. Others take notice, not merely when we say this is true, but when we live as though it is true.
When we look for the "good and admirable and beautiful," we focus on the positive, and we will impart encouragement to others in the process. Learning to see God's image helps us to keep our perspective by focusing on the potential in every per¬son, rather than on limitations. It also emphasizes what matters most-a person's dignity-and not his abilities or disabilities.
The individual who provides support for a person with special needs is upholding the sanctity of human life―and so are the parents who promote the image of God in their "typical" children by lovingly raising them. We honor the image of God when we serve a neighbor who has AIDS, when we meet the needs of our spouse who has cancer, or when we care for a family member with dementia. The concept of the sanctity of human life is immense and broad, and it motivates us to respectfully engage others in God's name in whatever we do. [Page 20,21]
Used by permission of P&R Publishing, Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability, Stephanie O. Hubach (Phillipsburg, NJ.: 2006), "On Respect: Common Grace, Special Needs," 43-52, prpbooks.com.
focusonthefamily.com January 2009 (page 20-21)