As a nursing student, I’ve worked with every vulnerable person you could imagine: refugees, the mentally ill, those without homes, the elderly, even people who are simply lonely. While I enjoyed caring for them and helping them in the hospital setting, it often broke my heart when they shared how unsupported or alone they felt in their communities.
I often struggled with what to say or do with these patients, especially when I didn’t feel like I understood what they were going through. So, my adviser brilliantly suggested that rather than struggle to find something to say to them instead, I should ask those patients, “What can I do to be a better nurse for people who struggle with the same things you are?”
I’ve adopted this idea to better myself and help make the lives of the vulnerable populations I care for easier. Recently, I was caring for a patient in a psychiatric hospital in downtown Omaha. He had been battling severe mental illness from decades of physical and psychological abuse, and I asked him what I can do to be the best caregiver possible. He looked me in the eyes and told me very simply, “We are people too. Treat us like the human beings we are.”
This hit a particular nerve with me, as I realized I do far too little to care for the humans around me. All of us, we, as Christians, do far too little for the humans around us.
As human beings, we are flawed, and caring for a vulnerable stranger is difficult to do. The thought of it can leave us feeling uncomfortable or nervous. We know we should help a stranger in need, but we also are afraid for our safety, or perhaps we are afraid we will say the wrong thing. Rather than taking a leap of faith and trying to help, we try to rationalize we would help them, but we are just really in a rush to get to our meeting on time. We would stop to assist someone who is struggling, but we don’t know if they could harm us or if they are dangerous. We could donate our time and volunteer with those in need, but we are too busy to do it now.
It is so easy to come up with a reason why we can’t help someone, but it’s never easy for us to help them. Of course, this does not mean we are evil or bad people. It can mean we are timid, afraid or simply uneducated.
When God became human and walked this earth with us, he showed us how to care for everyone. He taught us how to love the people we would otherwise turn our heads to. He taught us that he was human, without a home, family and financial stability. He also taught us we were made in his image.
The solution is simple: We need to follow in the wise words and actions Christ portrayed during his time on earth. We need to love.
But how can we love the most vulnerable people in our society? It seems much more complicated than it is. We must treat those people as if they are Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I assure you, as often as you did it for the least among you, you did it for me.” (Matthew 25:35-40)
If we treated the person on the side of the road as if they were Jesus and loved them as Jesus taught us to, maybe we would slip them a dollar for food or even offer a smile instead of turning our head in the opposite direction. If we loved those struggling like Jesus, perhaps our communities could support those who need help.
It is impossible to assume that we can fix all the poverty and hardships in the world, but one thing that is not impossible is to show love and respect to fellow human beings. Showing love to a stranger is a difficult thing to do. It is not easy by any means, but what matters is Jesus would show that stranger love, and so must we.The vulnerable person that might be easy to ignore or avoid is more than your brother or sister in Christ; that person is Christ.
Ardyn Townzen is a junior at Creighton University in Omaha. St. Stephen Church in Bentonville is her home parish.
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