The highest order of all gifts to give another person, surely, is the gift of dignity.
Dignity is meeting a four-year-old on the street, hand in hand with her parent, and getting beyond the temptation to say, “Oh, how cute is she!” It’s meeting the 89-year-old in the home for older people, disregarding physical or mental state of wares, and getting beyond the temptation of seeing this person as “over the hill.” It’s meeting the single mum at face value, without judgment, admiring her tenacity to parent as her best.
It’s coming across the person with a physical disability or a mental impairment or someone with a psychological disorder and getting beyond the temptation to treat them in any way differently to ourselves—how we would command others treat us.
It’s meeting someone who’s lost a loved one and not avoiding them, but loving them more—being more available, if that’s what’s required, not less. It’s meeting someone who’s suffered the collapse of their marriage—and getting beyond issues of circumstance and just being there, refusing to take sides; being there as an encourager—particularly of the children of divorce. Encourage the children of divorce and inevitably you encourage the parent(s) involved.
This list, above, is still far too small. We are all ostracised to a lack of dignity. We are all judged and condemned by people who really don’t know.
Preserving others’ dignity is many times about rising above our momentary social phobia via the integrity of honest courage melded with compassion. There are so many minorities that test our ability to be sufficiently dignified to protect their dignity. If we lack the acumen of protecting others’ dignity, we lack dignity for ourselves.
The dignified will be known for their gift, to others, of dignity. Their motto is Dignity for All.
Such people have that innate ability to cherish the spiritual force within the physicality of individual persons:
“Every life deserves a certain amount of dignity, no matter how poor or damaged the shell that carries it.”
Praying for Extra Portions of This Grace-Gift
The gift of dignity may not fit very well in the overall suite of spiritual gifts, but it is a gift known to the most mature of believers. Almost by presumption we can expect those exemplifying this gift to the suffered a little (or much) in their lives as they came to know compassion and the blessedness and value of feeling dignified.
If we struggle with any subset of humanity—especially the minorities—and we are honest—God will grow our portion of this grace-gift. It’s a grace-gift because it reeks of grace. It’s a grace-gift, also, because this is exactly how God treats us; we may be wretches, but our Lord, the Father, and the Spirit treat us with unparalleled dignity.
Our role is to pray that we would, in the mode of our interactions, bless people by risking ourselves to create intimacy—enough and in the right ways—to transmit acceptance and love.
Every single person deserves dignity, and more especially those who struggle to be treated in a dignified manner. The truly dignified treat people with dignity, irrespective of who they are, where they have been, or what they think. God calls us to dignity.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.