Maybe we needed her more than she needed us
“Which should I do—become a bag lady or check myself into a mental hospital?” Florence was sitting on my front steps, her gray hair pulled into a topknot.
I started to protest, then caught myself. “What do you think?”
Florence had grown up in an abusive home, survived an abusive marriage, and divorced at 56. She was now trying to make it on her own for the first time ever.
Florence loved to read her Bible. She believed in God’s power to heal. But she was not doing well.
A few weeks after she began worshiping with us, Florence called me aside before the service. A house had burned down leaving a mother and baby homeless. “I believe that news report was a message from God telling me to take care of that baby,” she whispered. “Can you take me over there right now so the baby won’t starve?” After 10 minutes she accepted my assurances and came into the service.
When Florence stopped eating regularly and neglected her medications, I arranged for her to live temporarily in a group home. There she got coaching on menu-planning, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, and budgeting. She especially enjoyed Tuesdays when a counselor helped her identify her abilities and set goals.
When she came back to our neighborhood we helped her rent an apartment. She got a job and started seeing a Christian counselor. She seemed like a new woman. We all celebrated!
After a promising start, though, the stresses of her job overwhelmed her. After six weeks she quit, isolated in her home, and quit coming to church.
So that day on my steps as Florence weighed her options—the streets or a mental hospital—I managed to somehow suspend my problem-solving and just listen. She longed to depend on God, yet she didn’t want to refuse the hospital if that was God’s provision. I didn’t offer any advice, but by the time she headed home she seemed less lost, more confident. A few weeks later she checked into the hospital. I never saw her again.
I’m not sure how much I helped Florence, but I know she changed me. Florence taught me the meaning of Paul’s words, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Cor. 12:20).
I had cared about Florence, poured time and energy into her. Maybe that was love, but it was not unconditional. Because with all my giving, I brought expectations. I expected change. Growth. Results. It was not until that day on my steps, as I listened to Florence with new ears that I truly accepted her—not for who she might become, but for who she was.
God showed me that the weak are indispensable because they call us, in ways the strong cannot, to unconditional love, acceptance, respect. Thanks to the gift of Florence’s weakness.
How have you experienced weakness—your own or someone else’s—as a gift?