COUNTLESS surveys have been taken, and articles have been written, on what makes us valuable or useful. College degrees, experience in specialized work, knowledge of foreign languages, and other attributes appear on many such lists. And of course there are other qualifications as well.
Yet some people aren't even expected to advance, because they suffer mental or physical disorders that seem to keep them from communicating or learning as they should. By the usual human yardstick, these people might be discarded as being of little worth.
I like to think of such individuals as God's sparrows. Perhaps you are familiar with Christ Jesus' statement about sparrows in the Bible. In assuring his followers that God would take care of them, he said, Matthew's Gospel records, ``Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father." In other words, even a creature that humans think is of little value does not escape God's notice and love. This is of course a touching point of view, but Christ Je sus' teachings were more than aphorisms. He was telling his disciples--and through the Gospels, us--about an actual spiritual law that we can allow to operate in our lives and that can help those who seem to be handicapped in some way.
In our prayers we can know right now that each individual--including ourselves--is of worth to God and no one can be outside His love. This love is boundless because God knows us as His spiritual offspring, totally free of limitations and fully expressing His qualities, such as love, purity, intelligence, joy, and life.
Is such prayer simply a way of denying obvious problems? Not by Christ Jesus' standards. He never ignored anyone who asked him for help, whether the problem was blindness, deafness, mental illness, or physical disability. And his understanding of God was sufficient to heal. The basis of his teachings is that man is fully spiritual and is inseparable from God.
In her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, speaks eloquently about overcoming not just sickness and sin but also disabilities and other limitations. She writes: ``The individuality of man is no less tangible because it is spiritual and because his life is not at the mercy of matter. The understanding of his spiritual individuality makes man more real, more formidable in truth, and enables him to conquer sin, disease, and de ath."
If someone we know is suffering from a handicap, we can help by looking for and affirming the spiritual qualities he or she already expresses. Sometimes this may not be easy, especially if the individual is bitter or mentally disturbed. Yet such perseverance does help to clear away the clouds that would hide that individual's true, spiritual nature. This occurs not because we are hiding from the material picture but because we are, in fact, recognizing that the material condition is actually irrelevant t o that individual's relationship to God.
As God's spiritual ideas, we are not subject to matter and its conditions. We are under the government of an all-good and all-loving God. Even if we don't feel we can heal as readily as Jesus did, we can at least make a start in that direction by accepting that all God's offspring have value.
For example, I once worked for a Christian Scientist who always recognized the spiritual individuality of everyone. This was just the way he thought about people. I saw such vivid evidence of the value of this approach that I began to try to do it myself, and while I'm still not as disciplined about it as he was, I too have seen some changes.
A few months ago, I helped out at an airshow given by a small airport. Among those attending was a group of residents from the local mental hospital. Shepherded rather firmly by the people overseeing them, the little group passed by me a few times. Finally, three women were left alone a short distance from my assigned position.
I smiled at them, and one gave me a brilliant smile back. Our eyes met, and I really felt a sparkle of joy pass between us. Then their guide came back and led them off in another direction. The next time they passed, this woman slipped away from her group and took my hand. She smiled at me and said ``Hello! with great warmth. I told her how glad I was that she could be there, and she quickly rejoined her group. Nothing more happened, yet somehow the facade of mental incapacity was broken, even if only fo r an instant.
Each of us has the opportunity to see God's sparrows--to love our fellow beings by recognizing that in truth all of us are actually the spiritual offspring of God. The progress toward living and proving that fact may be slow. Yet God loves these sparrows and sees their worth, and we can too.
Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven. . . . Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.
Matthew 18:10, 14