it is so easy to stop seeing what’s right in front of us. this past week, charis asked the tenderos if they had a drop cloth they could borrow. well, for months there has a drop cloth laying in a corner, right in the pathway where they walk every day; it was right in front of their nose. this reminds me of how so many days i can sit alone in my sweet little house (thank you, Lord) and ruminate on the meaningless of my life and my lacking mission, while failing to see that across my yard, in clear vision of my kitchen windows, at any given hour, there are three to six homeless men sleeping or drinking on the porch of an abandoned house. could it be that part of my mission — or at least one place where i can begin to bring the kingdom to bear — is right in front of my nose, even while i sit inside moaning about my aimlessness? or maybe i haven’t stopped noticing their physical presence, but i have lost vision for the image of God in them, the Christ that is near to them, and their potential identity as redeemed children.
do you want to know what holds me back from giving into the urge to bring them hot coffee or muffins in the mornings? or from speaking bold and loving truth into their souls (again)? it is this: i’m afraid that if i give an inch, they will demand a mile, either because my heart will adopt them and long to help, or because they will, in their un-health, act out of entitlement and manipulation. there have been people in my life who have demanded a mile, in the unhealthy sense, and i feel so swallowed up by their neediness, so entirely consumed, that it is enough to keep me from giving even the inch that i can afford. other times, they might demand a mile simply by arousing my heart to engaged concern, which is painful to carry, and sometimes inconvenient in what it requires of me. so i hold back.
all i’m saying is that even if you move yourself and your family down to the center of the action — where the poverty and the drugs and the abuse are — you can still stop seeing what’s in front of you, and you can still neglect the poor. it’s always in our hearts. if you live in a more affluent area, you may need to go a bit further afield to find the least and the lost, but you can carry them in your heart. in fact, maybe you’re carrying them in your heart, your prayers, your pocket book even more than i am, though i have a cluster of homeless men in my back yard who know my name and where i live.
“lean in,” was the short phrase that Tony embedded into his sermon at Stockbridge Mission Church on Sunday morning. it wasn’t even a main point, but it reverberated in my heart. that same phrase was spoken to me, specifically, at a healing conference i went to a couple years back. it was spoken to me by some caring group leaders who, after hearing my stories and my heart, exhorted me to lean in, and then to stay there. because lots of times, when it comes to relationships, i stand erect and across-from, independent and needless, and hope that others will be, too. maybe you do this too? the fact is that people are messy — not just the ones sleeping in my alley, but most all of them — and it takes great compassion and incredible courage to lean in closer, take a deeper look, and to speak and act in a way that effects change in the both of you. i wonder how often i avoid leaning in by talking about “having boundaries”? but i suspect that when this life is over, the things that will be worth remembering, the things that my Papa will want to talk about with me, will be those relationships into which i leaned hard and fearlessly because i trusted that He is big enough to sustain me as i lean, and to heal the other person, however intensive and far-reaching their mess.
calvin college is putting on a course during their “j-term” called Dunamis, which is a course all about the Holy Spirit, for Reformed people. Tony and I get to go to this class, and not only that, but we get to act as “Spiritual Trainers,” mentoring the students in exploration of the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. and i cannot even begin to tell you how unworthy i feel (am) of playing this role. because though i have been given revelation to know that amzing Person, most of my experiences with Him feel past tense, not a reality i’m currently swimming in and into which i can beckon others to jump. so i was thinking for a while that i might not do it, because of that lack, because i feel like a fraud. but then a couple of people (you know who you are) pointed out to me that perhaps such a commitment will be just the ticket to stretching me back out, pulling me back in, opening that up for me again. lack of engagement is a slow death; so when you feel like you’re dying, choose to engage.