Let me introduce you to Fred (not his real name of course and this picture is not him!). Fred lives alone, in the same village as us. He is elderly and has some of the health issues that age brings, partly being that he is losing his eyesight.
Fred lived with his sister, in their family home in the village where they were both born, as virtual recluses for many years. In fact he only really came out for essential things like going to get food or to go to the Doctors.
Sadly Fred’s sister died last year, in the same week as their dog was put down, leaving him alone with their slightly straggly cat. He is the last surviving member of their family.
In the weeks following her death neighbours discovered that for years Fred and his sister had been living in conditions that we would baulk at. They have been living in one room, with no central heating, limited water and electricity, and no cooker. Although I’d like to keep this as anonymous as possible some people will know Fred so I’m not going to go into all the details but let’s just say the situation is as bad as you could imagine, if not worse.
Having spoken little to Fred in the years we have lived here (although we have looked out for them) all of a sudden we find out he has a personality, quirky yes, and with some odd opinions, but with a sense of humour and a generous heart. In fact I have enjoyed sitting down to a cuppa with him and hearing about his past life.
Now, as neighbours some of us have pulled together to help, to support, to put him in touch with the relevant people (and yes social services are involved). But some months on and things are changing only at a snails pace, despite the fact that he does want help.
So why am I telling you all this?
Well, the things is, we are all a bit exhausted. There is so much to do, so much help required and Fred it turns out, is actually quite needy. And more than that, he’s lonely.
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me
My days are torn right now, between wanting to do as much as I can for Fred, and finding myself annoyed at yet more to do. I wonder, with that verse, what would I be doing if it was Jesus? Well, he’d be in our spare room I’m sure, I’d cook for him every night, I’d be hanging on his every word, I wouldn’t dream of letting him stay in that house. But yet I’m torn. How much can I do for Fred? How much can I share? Where are the boundaries? Because in ministry they tell you: you must have boundaries, you must be careful, and I understand this. Of course I have to protect my family, but then I think of poor Fred, sat alone in his filthy house, eating beans from a can and imagine Jesus sat there with him.
So here we are. And I know Fred is not an isolated incident. There are older people up and down the country, still wanting to live in their own homes (and why shouldn’t they) and yet with so much they find hard if not impossible to do, or with situations they find themselves in, far too huge to handle. Of course Fred is an extreme case but he would never be able to access some of the help he is getting without help in the first place, what a vicious circle! Today I needed to book something for him and the council recommended company don’t take cheques and can’t receive cash. No two ways about it, even when I explained the situation they would not budge. Yet Fred only uses cash. Surely that’s a form of discrimination? What will probably happen is that one of us will pay and he will then give us the cash but what if it was someone who had no one to do that? Any anyway why should that have to happen?!
And on loneliness, Age Concern stats show that loneliness is one of the key things facing older people today. Much of the time Fred just wants someone to talk to. He says how lonely it is with just him and the straggly cat 24/7. So many other older people are going through this, as Fred says, he has spent his whole life with someone, his parents or his sister and now there is no one.
Officially we (the neighbours) are doing all we can, relevant agencies are involved. I have no actual responsibilty to him and yet… Whatever I do for the least of these, I do for Jesus…
I am torn.
Do you know I have actually prayed for him for years, for an opportunity, for a way to help, to get to know him. Now I have it and yet it’s huge. What can I do? I ask myself, am I being the Light in his life? Am I being an example to neighbours of the love and compassion of Christ? What am I teaching my kids if I am annoyed or lacking compassion? I want them to love people, to learn to serve the poor, to be the light that we should be.
Lord, help me.
So you see I don’t think this post is really about Fred at all, it’s about my own struggle to find what it really means to be Jesus’ hands and feet. To get stuck in where it matters. To what lengths I am prepared to go to do that. It’s about the way I demonstrate the love of God to those around me. Oh I can make up reason and excuse not to do things, or to shy away from what needs to be done, and I probably still will, but truly I know what I should be doing.
I do wonder, when we think of falling church numbers and all that, if we were truly acting as Jesus did, being a very obvious and present example of him, how much that might change peoples perception of the church…?
Just so you know, there is very little chance of Fred ever reading this, but I have changed a few details and of course his name to give some anonymity.