By Rev. Kathryn Saunders-Allen
I remember well the day that I got my chickenpox vaccine as a little girl. When I realized that we were pulling up to the office my pediatrician was in, I knew someone was going to stick me with a needle. But what I remember best was my mother in the office with me, seeing my tears and taking me anyway, and then hugging me after it was all done because she knew that this temporary pain would make me healthier in general and keep me from having to go through the pain of having chickenpox later.
Now that I am an adult, it is up to me to decide to receive my flu vaccine every year. It would be so easy to skip, to not go to the pharmacy or my doctor and ask for a flu shot. But each year I think of the work I’m called to do, and I go ask someone to give me a quick shot that will help me protect my entire community from the flu.
Getting a flu vaccine every year is not just an action taken to care for oneself. If an entire community receives their flu vaccines, then the chances of anyone in that community getting a potentially life-threatening flu illness is greatly reduced. Therefore when each of us gets that vaccine, we are acting in love for our whole community. It’s particularly important because there are some who are unable to receive a vaccine for certain health reasons, which likely also makes them more vulnerable to the very illness we are working to prevent.
I’m a pastor of a Christian church and I teach and preach every week about how much God loves us and how we are called to love our neighbor. It is the imperative that Jesus gives his disciples during his last supper, as he stoops to wash their feet: love one another.
When you get vaccinated, you are showing love to your neighbor who cannot take the same protective actions as you can.
Washing someone’s feet is not a choice one would typically make for one’s own joy, but it is an action that soothes another and helps them. That is the kind of love that God calls us to show — making choices that may not be our first choice if we were all alone, but are what is the best way to care for the people around us. Jesus spoke of loving our neighbor more than just at his last meal with his disciples. It is something he spoke about with scholars who brought him questions. They asked what would sum up the whole of the law, and Jesus replied that the law tells us to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
People have told me that they “never get the flu” or “don’t get it that bad,” so it’s not worth it to them to take the time to get vaccinated each year. But I urge those people and anyone else who finds reasons to skip their yearly vaccination to think of their families, their neighbors, and their call from God to love the whole of the community and take the little time it takes to act that love out. When you get vaccinated, you are showing love to your neighbor who cannot take the same protective actions as you can.
So every year as the flu vaccine becomes available I typically have to talk myself into going in to receive the shot. But then I remember my faith in God who loves me and calls me to love those around me, and I remember that faith without actions is barely a faith at all. So, I go ask someone to give me a shot that provides a brief moment of pain in return for my own health and the health of those around me for the rest of the season. It is one time when acting as a child of God is really not so hard.
Kathryn serves as a Lutheran pastor in Irving, Texas.
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