One of my closest friends and mentors, who also has an affinity for quotes, shared this Mother Teresa quote with me many years ago (emphasis mine)…
loving as He loves
helping as He helps
giving as He gives
serving as He serves
rescuing as He recues
touching Him in His distressing disguise
However I didn’t understand the depths of those words until I got the opportunity to go to Kolkata, India and serve with the Missionaries of Charity and Mother Teresa’s homes there in 2008. All of the sudden those words came like a flood on the first day we served at Prem Dan, the hospital (I found some great photo’s from someone’s Flickr page). We were completely unprepared for the ways our hearts would be stretched and deepened that day as we jumped in wherever was needed for us to serve. But one scene still sticks out in my mind so powerfully – after we helped feed the women who could not feed themselves, we just sat with them – someone had lotion and one of the other volunteers who had been there for a while told us that the women just liked to be touched and loved the feeling of lotion being rubbed onto their skin – language was an enormous barrier and we couldn’t speak to the women but we could love on them through touch. It was not a glorified thing – frankly it was gross – many of these women could not go to the bathroom on their own, many of the women were very sick, the area smelled of old curry and infection… but we were there to serve. And I remember as I sat trying to love on this one women, rubbing lotion, trying to be present, trying to resist the tears that wanted to spill from my eyes – she began talking a million miles a minute and I could sense that she desperately wanted me to understand but I couldn’t with the language – and all of the sudden our eyes met and that idea of ‘touching Him in His distressing disguise’ had flesh right in front of me – there was something in her eyes – and I swear I saw Jesus. I still have no idea what she said – but in that moment my heart was overwhelmed far past the realm of words and Christ began ministering to me as I thought I was trying to be the hands and feet of Christ to this woman. And there was a holy moment – I pray she felt seen in that moment by me and by Christ through me as I did. It wasn’t a moment of connection that allows you to exchange numbers and keep in touch – but it was one of the most pure and unguarded and life-giving and heart-breaking encounters I have ever had with another human. It was Christ in His distressing disguise.
That experience has haunted me in a beautifully holy way ever since – and these three years later, I am realizing that the Lord gives us those same opportunities every day – to touch Him in His distressing disguise. He is shifting my thinking to realizing we all are Christ in His distressing disguise – even some of the most ‘holy’ people we can think of are Christ in His distressing disguise – and so are our family members, and our pastors, and that one co-worker, and the grocery store clerk, and the homeless man we pass every day, and, and, and…
This year, I have been on the Women of Faith bookstore team running a product table, and God has really challenged me (against my natural instict) to realize that every single woman who walks up to my booth is Christ in His distressing disguise, every volunteer, every fellow staff member – and He has challenged me to stop and look in their eyes – to love as He loves, help as He helps, serve as He serves… and to touch Him in His distressing disguise. It is still a practice I am trying to implement into my daily life – and frankly, I am not the best at it – but yet, it never fails that as I am trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, He ultimately ministers to my weary soul in a way I never could have expect. Perhaps that is some of what Jesus meant when He said the last shall be first – to purely serve is not the way to the top of the ‘American dream’ in today’s culture; however, if we do just that, He gives us far more than the ‘American dream’ ever could.
What would it look like if we all truly ‘touched Him in His distressing disguise’?
(Know that I am speaking to myself more than anyone)