Years ago I knew a man named Jeffrey. Jeffrey moved slowly through life. His needs seemed simple. Some folks called him “slow witted.” Others said he lacked ambition. Or education. Perhaps he lacked opportunity. Or, as I noted, maybe his needs were just simple.
Jeffrey lived in a small mobile home behind his Aunt Millie’s house. She, far more than his parents, had cared for him all his life. Growing up, Jeffrey spent more time with Aunt Millie than with his parents. His parents preferred it that way, and so did he.
Whatever Jeffrey needed, Millie provided. She is the one who purchased the mobile home for him and had it set up at the rear edge of her property. She washed his clothes. When he returned each evening from his job in the nearby cotton mill, she had dinner prepared and waiting. She listened to him when others paid no attention. She valued him when others considered him, at best, on the very low end of normal. She loved him when the rest of the world hardly noticed he was there.
Jeffrey was not a church person, though Aunt Millie never missed a Sunday. On Sundays, he would try to pay back her kindnesses while she was off at Church School and Worship. That he would do by mowing her yard, trimming her hedges, or doing needed repairs around the house. From time to time someone at the mill or in the neighborhood would invite Jeffrey to go to church. He always smiled and answered (as a compliment to the woman who took such expert care of him), “Who needs God when you’ve got Aunt Millie!”
I was not offended by Jeffrey’s childlike response to people when their invitations were declined. I don’t think he was an atheist, nor do I think he was in any way antagonistic to organized Religion. Instead, in all the world, he had found one person he could count on, one person who would meet his needs, one person who would always be there for him to love him unconditionally. “Who needs God when you’ve got Aunt Millie!”
The only thing was that Jeffrey did not have Aunt Millie forever. She grew old and ill. And one day when he returned from the cotton mill, there was no hand-written note on his door saying: “Wash up and come over. Dinner will be on the table when you get here.” There were no clothes neatly folded and stacked on his couch. When he walked into her house, he found that Aunt Millie had died. Peacefully. Seated in her favorite chair with an unfinished bit of knitting on her lap. Jeffrey’s world fell apart that moment. He had no moorings, no safety net, no one left to count on.
“Who needs God when you’ve got Aunt Millie!” Jeffrey did. We all do. When mortality closed the book on her earthly story, Jeffrey’s simple needs no longer had a provider. She listened to him. She valued him. She loved him unconditionally. That’s what he needed most of all and what he feared he could no longer find after she died. And that is why Jeffrey needed God, isn’t it? Because no matter how the world deals with us, we can always count on God to listen, to value, to love.
I moved from that community without ever knowing if Jeffrey followed his aunt’s example and became involved in church. I do know, however, that he took the Bible that had always been on her bed stand and transferred it to his own. I hope he read it. If so, then he knew in the years after Aunt Millie passed that Someone else remained to meet his simple needs... Someone Who would listen to him when others paid no attention, and Who would value him when others considered him, at best, on the very low end of normal, and Who would love him unconditionally. I hope he learned to feel as safe in God’s care as he had in hers. That way, when the end came for Jeffrey, as it did years later, he would not be afraid. I hope he knew when he closed his eyes for the last time here, that he would open them over There and see two warm and smiling faces: Aunt Millie’s and God’s – both of whom had cared for him in this world and would welcome him into the Next One where their love and care would continue.
Who needs God? I suppose any of us who long to be heard, to be valued, and to be loved need God more than we need anything else at all.