The Importance of Accessibility
Mar 11, 2019 12:58AM
● By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Introverted and plan-ahead me had gone through all the steps to set up my online coffee order so that I could pick up my latte and egg bites on the way to a medical appointment for one of my kids. I was rewarding myself for getting through two different appointments in two different directions in one day.
But my order online didn’t work, and I found myself growing angsty when 10 minutes later my cloud macchiato was ready, but my egg bites were not there. I nicely asked about it, and they told me someone must have grabbed it by accident and they’d make me a new one. Not wanting to be a jerky customer at my favorite local café, I practiced patience and smiled.
When it arrived, it was in an oatmeal container, so I asked: “Is this really the egg bites order?” And the reply was: “Yes, we just ran out of the bags we usually put them in.”
After thanking them and getting back on the road, it occurred to me that I had seen another oatmeal container waiting at the online order pick-up station. I had ignored it because it appeared to be oatmeal. I bet you a hundred bucks that my original order had been there the entire time—just in disguise.
As my mind in traffic is prone to do in order to relieve stress, it wandered to so many areas of my life where something may look or feel different than what I expected, and so I blow past it because it simply wasn’t as accessible to me in the form in which it appeared.
This can be true of our relationships, a kindness directed at us, a hand of help, even new software. If we cannot access it easily or in the language we speak—if it’s not “user-friendly"—then our fast-paced modern selves often don’t know quite what to do.
One of my children had some learning deficiencies in early elementary school. If a project wasn’t broken down into smaller chunks, he simply could not grasp the task at hand. A math page of 20 problems on one page would send him into sensory overload and overwhelm. All that ink just jumbled around in his brain. But, if you placed a white paper over most of the problems, and he only saw one or two at a time, boom! His mind could access the information and get started.
The same child had sensory needs and required attention breaks. It was the only way to sustain him during a school day of mostly desk-sitting when his body was wired to bounce. So, when I discovered that a first grade teacher still had no familiarity with his educational plan five months into the school year and did not provide the sensory breaks he needed, I understood why my son had completely shut down. He had been unable to access the tools he needed to cope through anxiety and a racing mind.
I’ve had a close family member express amazing intent many times over that never was accompanied by matching actions. There was a lot of assumption that somehow their unspoken love would make its way to my heart. I believe the heart was there but the expression was not—not in a language I could ever understand, anyway. It broke us apart for years in several different cycles. It left me dumbfounded and often feeling abandoned and unlovable. Since then, I’ve seen it a few times in my interactions with similar personality types with a more closed demeanor. Whatever was there—I simply couldn’t access it.
I believe this same principle of accessibility works its way into how we represent Christ and how we speak peace to others. The apostle Paul explains it beautifully in 1 Corinthians 9. Let’s take it line by line.
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, ESV
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them.
Why did Paul make himself a servant to all? He did so to win over hearts. He wasn’t marketing; he was serving. His end goal was to love as many people as he could with the love of Christ. His position was humble.
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
Paul was a Jew, and in fact, before his conversion, was an angry, militant Jew persecuting Christians. He knew his fellow Jews better than anyone, but as a Christian, he no longer felt under the law in terms of sacrifice and rituals (Jesus paid the final sacrifice to fulfill what the prophets had said about the coming Messiah). But what he states here is that he functioned as one who was Jewish in order to understand and reach the hearts of his fellow Jews. He didn’t boast in his freedom from the Jewish law because of Christ. He met them where they were at. He made himself accessible.
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
In this statement, Paul is referencing the Gentiles. They were outside the law in the sense that they were not Jewish and had never answered to the Jewish God. He found his communication smoother with them by taking the time to understand their vantage point as a risen Christ was preached. He realized they didn’t have the law or prophets to have spoken God’s truth to them. He had to approach them in a different way than he did the Jews. He had to speak Gentile, more or less, so that they could access the truth of Christ that he preached.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak.
This is one of my favorite statements in the Bible. Weakness can be the ultimate posture of humility. It communicates that you are not strong without Christ, that you understand the overall human condition, and that you’ve “been there.” Paul was most likely speaking to the “weak in faith,” meaning those having a hard time letting go of religious custom and ritual to embrace a relational, risen Savior. He did not put them down for their struggle to understand. He came down to their level of experience to help them along. Until he showed grace and mercy for their clouded vision, they could not access the Light of the world (Jesus) he came to bring them.
I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
Paul reiterates the heart of this entire passage: his heart to look into each unique eye and speak to each varied background and level of faith and bring the saving news of Christ.
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
This last line indirectly suggests that we are to expect roadblocks. There will be challenges blocking the way of Christ into other people’s hearts. It may be a faith issue, a loss, an abuse, a persisting sin, or even former church damage. The Pharisees had done much damage in their day of twisting the truth of God into power dynamics and legalism. Some of our churches fail us in the same way today. Church hurt can certainly get in the way.
Whatever it is, our hearts to help people access the truth of Christ should absolutely be motivated, just as it was with Paul, by the sake of the gospel and the desire for others to know the blessings of a life of following Christ.
My egg bites were hidden within an oatmeal container. Who would expect that? Not recognizing the product outside its usual packaging got in my way—so much so that the café had to offer me another set of them.
Likewise, we cannot offer Christ to others from a position looking down from our own understanding. We must remember the humble position from which we received Him and put ourselves once again in that place, intentionally looking at others eye-to-eye and listening to their hearts talking to us. We need to know where they are coming from.
And one last warning, if I may: If we preach a heart for Jesus but spew any kind of hate on social media, oppress the poor, malign our neighbor, ignore the hurting, or declare ourselves perfect or "above" others, our otherwise beautiful message of Christ cannot be accessed.
Does that make sense?
Jesus is accessible to all people and welcomes all into His Kingdom, but some folks may have a harder time understanding than others. Our ministry and peace-speaking to others first and foremost has to come from a place of communicating care.
God is Love, and Love must lead.
Jesus says to come into His kingdom like a child. Perhaps that is the greatest accessibility of all: the openness of a child's heart.
Mark 10:15, ESV
"Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.