A dear friend of mine works for an organization that helps resettle immigrants and refugees in Buffalo. I’ve heard from her for years about her work—this Burmese family who hopes to start a restaurant, that Congolese man who was recently reunited with his large family, this Iraqi woman whose name could not be disclosed for fear of violent repercussions. And while I have always admired my friend’s work, I am ashamed to say that I did not pay a lot of attention to these people rebuilding their lives until the Afghan political crisis late in the summer of 2021.
When the United States military left Afghanistan and the country began transitioning to Taliban rule, dramatic images of fleeing families, desperate for a way out, suddenly dominated the American news cycle. While there was something beautiful about Americans’ sudden interest in helping Afghan families, there was also something troubling, and I realized this when I examined my own heart. I realized that at some level, I wanted to appear virtuous by responding conspicuously to what everyone was seeing in the news. And I also realized that one of the reasons I was drawn to helping Afghans in particular is that I read National Geographic magazine, and I’ve always loved this iconic photo of a young Afghan girl in a refugee camp, which was published on the cover of the magazine in the 1980s.
The image is haunting because the child’s green eyes are bright and piercing, and the entire composition is stunning. The photo itself is a piece of art, and while it has moved many people to think about the plight of children in Afghanistan, it’s important to admit that there’s something wrong when beautiful children in colorful clothing tug on our heartstrings more than the people all around us who have needed help for years. Sometimes we give attention and financial support to people and issues that catch our eye, rather than being willing to walk with people in pain who never make the evening news and whose circumstances and chronic difficulties don’t offer clickbait opportunities for quick redemption. As I thought about my friend’s day-in, day-out work with immigrants and refugees, I was reminded of Paul’s words to the Corinthians:
What would it mean for you to regard no one from a worldly point of view—whether a local refugee who needs material help, or someone in your own family who is just, well, needy? For me, this often means leaning in to the requests of my children when they ask me, night after night, for a snuggle in bed.
I GET SO TIRED OF THESE SNUGGLES.
Sometimes my kids are nice—charming, even—wanting to connect and have a little one-on-one time with Mom in a busy family with five children. “Thanks for changing my sheets, Mom, these are so soft!” my daughter said recently. I was a little surprised that she noticed, but still her compliment buoyed my spirits after a long day of checking off tasks and making sure everyone had what they needed.
Recently, though, my kids have been grouchy and particular during our evening snuggles, zeroing in on my failures and weaknesses in the few minutes before they drift off.
“Don’t sing that song, Mommy!”
“Why didn’t you remember to drop my lunch off today?”
“I need three dollars for tomorrow.”
“WHY DOES YOUR THROAT HURT, I REALLY WANTED THAT SONG!!??”
C.S. Lewis encourages us to see every individual: our neighbors, our children—especially those closest to us whom we might want to overlook—as a person in whom Jesus is hidden, a person for whom Christ died, a person who is no different and no less important than anyone else. He wants us to see each person as someone whose life is valuable and who may one day reign in heavenly glory. Lewis writes,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. (p. 9, The Weight of Glory)
What would it mean for you in these last few days of Advent, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, to regard someone who you are tempted to overlook as truly extraordinary? For me it might be a focused game of Monopoly with my introverted son who has trouble with all the holiday hubbub. (I hate Monopoly.) Or it might be a cookie delivery to a lonely neighbor, or a financial contribution to the less visible causes of my friend’s organization. It might even be taking extra care of myself, as moms are notoriously overlooked and underthanked during the holidays. Whether it’s yourself or someone else, consider how you might see and acknowledge the beauty and glory of the people all around you for whom Jesus came at Christmas.