“Being included is at the heart of the gospel of Christ.” — David McCasland
We may not recognize the name David Vetter, but most of us are probably familiar with the movie that was loosely based on his life entitled, The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. David was born with an ineffective immune system. He had to subsist in sterile chambers and could have no direct contact with the outside world. He was touched only through special plastic gloves and the chambers were kept inflated by air compressors that were so loud it made communication with him difficult. David was completely dependent on all his needs being met from outside the bubble. As he grew older, he became aware of the world outside his constrictive environment and he longingly desired to be a part of what he observed going on all around him, but that was not possible for him. As time went on, David suffered greatly due to lack of human contact and his increasing realization of his limited prospects for a normal life. Due to his condition, there was not only a physical but emotional, mental and psychological barrier as well.
Today, there are many around us who feel similarly constricted by their life’s circumstances or “bubbles”. Their “bubble experiences” may be two fold. First, there is the “inside-out” experience. From the inside looking out, they feel like all they can do is watch the activities, busyness and daily routines of all those around them. They can only be an observer and never a participant. They experience physical, mental, emotional and relational isolation. Day after day they wonder, imagine and dream about what it would be like to be on the outside. What would it be like to be free from their constraints and limitations? What would it be like to be included and not feel left out?
The second part of the “bubble experience” is the “outside-in” experience. From their confinement they make observations about how they’re treated and how they feel perceived by those on the outside. Here are some of the questions that may come to their minds. How do those looking in at me perceive me? Do they pity me or feel sorry for me? Do they label and categorize me as helpless? Do they exclude me from opportunities due to misconceptions about my limitations? Do they make rationalizations about reasons why I can’t or shouldn’t do certain things or go certain places? Lastly, and definitely most painfully –Do they simply dismiss me because my “bubble situation” is too cumbersome for them?
The life circumstances for those on the “inside looking out” are often in and of themselves debilitating, limiting, frustrating and isolating enough without being made to feel like some sort of pariah by those on the “outside looking in.”
Joni Eareckson Tada in her book, When God Weeps, writes, “Loneliness mixed with affliction is a dangerous potion. You lie awake, persistently needled by pain. Physical pain, yes, but also mental. The mountains you face are unknown to others. ‘Suffering for nothing’ is a poisonous thought. Whether we’re actually alone or lonely, if we get the feeling that no one notices our sorrows, it can drive us to despair.”
Philip Yancey in his book, Where Is God When It Hurts, speaks to the importance of how we as the body of Christ respond to those in pain. He writes that “he believes the chief contribution Christians can make is to keep people from suffering for the wrong reasons.” He explains that through careless and insensitive remarks or responses Christians, “can heap coals of fire on the suffering.” He says he has, “interviewed enough suffering people to know that the pain caused by these responses can exceed the pain of the illness itself.” This can be broadened beyond just “illness” to include whatever the specific confining “bubble circumstances” are in the lives of those who are hurting or in pain. Author Barbara Johnson writes, “When a loved one is facing a difficult challenge, sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things we do can give them hope – or push them into despair. That’s why it’s so important to consider carefully- and pray mightily about – the ways we reach out to those in need.”
Who are these people in our lives, in our families and in our churches who are living on the fringes of everyday activity and feel disenfranchised and marginalized? Rather than making excuses to dismiss them due to their struggles and limitations, we need to take the initiative in being creative and sensitive in finding ways to ease but not discount the reality of their situation. How can we integrate them rather than alienate them? We should make every effort to bring down barriers and reach inside to those who are encapsulated by their specific “bubbles”.
“When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones.” ~ I Corinthians 11:29a MSG
Reflections on LIVING IN A BUBBLE
For people who have never really experienced isolation, it can be difficult to try to understand or even sympathize with people who feel isolated and alone. However, when God brings us into relationship with people who experience those feelings, it is important for us to be extremely careful not to say or do anything that would add to the pain that they already feel. When your own life is very busy, if you are not careful, that very busyness can tend to make you insensitive. Jesus lived a very busy life but in the Bible we see Him often notice people that his disciples and others either ignored or disregarded as unimportant. He showed us over and over again that everyone matters to God.
As followers of Christ, we need to learn from His example to be sensitive to the hurts and needs of others. We need to be careful not to promise things which we may later be unable to fulfill. Although we often feel compelled to say something to people who are hurting, if we are not going to think and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, it may be better to just listen and say nothing at all than to say things that could cause further hurt or disappoint them.
God created us to be in relationship with Him and with other people. Everyone needs to feel like they matter. If we stay close to the Lord in our daily walk, He will guide our thoughts, our words and our actions. He will help us get done what we need to get done and still be a part of His plan to minister to hurting people.
God has intentionally placed each of us in relationships at home, at work, at church and in our extended families and friendships.
Are you truly seeking His leadership in each of those relationships?
Are you asking Him how He wants to use you each and every day?
If you haven’t been seeking His leadership in that way, you can begin to change today. If everyone did what God wants each of us to do, no one would feel totally disconnected.
Prayer for the hurting person:
Please burn Psalm 139:13-14 into the life of this hurting person. Help her to realize that she is “beautifully and wonderfully made” and that Philippians 1:6 is true for everyone who has placed their trust in You as Savior and Lord. Help her to know that You “Who began a good work in ‘her’ will be faithful to complete it.” You have a unique plan for her life. Wrap Your arms around her and lift her out of her bubble and embrace her in a way that will help her feel as loved as she is. Thank You for having a purpose even when we cannot see it.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Prayer for the helper:
I long to be more sensitive to the people that You have placed in my life but I honestly don’t know what that looks like. It scares me to think about committing to “be there” for other people when my life is so crazy busy that I can’t even get everything done now. Please help me to be sensitive to Your leading each and every day instead of handing you my To Do list and asking You to enable me to do My own plan! I confess that I sometimes am afraid to follow Your leading because I don’t know what You might ask me to do! Help me to just surrender my own agenda and be willing to follow Yours instead.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.