How do I listen to Jesus?
Recently, I had the opportunity to volunteer at the winter women’s shelter at the Lancaster YWCA. The program provides homeless women a warm place to spend the night during the winter months. It was a busy evening. Approximately 40 women, of all ages, arrived out of the single-digit, outside temperatures. I handed out blankets, sheets, towels, a washcloth, dispensed aspirin and Tylenol and many other sundry items. I made coffee and set out snacks, helped to set up mats on the gym floor, and engaged in conversation with the guests. They were very personable and I found myself enjoying their candor, insights and realized they were just “normal” folks who had the misfortune at this time of not having a place to call their own. I didn’t approach the “whys’ of that with them. Lights were turned off in the gym at 9:30 and a quietness and peacefulness settled over the shelter.
Now, the volunteers started their shifts of one and a half hour of monitoring. Cheryl had the first shift from 10 to 11:30 and I was scheduled for 11:30 to 1. Rather than going to a separate room to sleep, I decided to spend the time talking with Cheryl. At 11:30 the shelter phone rang. Two women at the front door were impatiently asking, no, demanding to be let in. They had vouchers. But, we were instructed to let no one enter after 9 PM. Cheryl kindly asked them to wait until we contacted the designated spokesperson. After getting permission from her, we walked to the front door, asked to check their vouchers and left them into the foyer. The delay, the fact that we had to call a charge person before letting them enter, asking to see their vouchers and doing a brief check of their person, pockets, and items they were carrying caused them to become angry and very belligerent. They pushed us aside. No amount of explaining the necessity for security and safety could calm them down. They were Christians. Couldn’t we see they were carrying a Bible? Why did we not accept them without delay when they have been at the shelter previously and always arrived late? They refused to listen to our explanations. Trying to remain patient, gracious and kind, we hurried them through the process and tried not to annoy them any further. I thought we were being very “Christian”.
After they were settled, the one woman approached us to gently admonish us on our attitude. We were ambassadors of Christ and it was very necessary to display unconditional love to the guests. Were we living out and practicing the mission of the shelter? Were we displaying Christ-like attitudes? Where was the compassion? Why did we not trust them when they were carrying a Bible? I listened quietly, nodding my head in agreement with little argument and defense of my actions. At one point, Cheryl exchanged hugs and the two women, who were very exhausted, retired to the gym. Except for a few eye rolls that Cheryl and I exchanged, the incident was pushed to the back of my mind. There was no further conversation. The rest of the night passed without any disruptions and I left in the morning slightly weary but a deep down, satisfied, warm and fuzzy, I-will-do this-again feeling.
Later in the day, I started remembering/reliving the whole incident. It became bigger and bigger. Perhaps it was because I had little sleep the night before. But, I found myself getting angry and defensive. This was a goodwill effort, an easy “service project”. Give myself a pat on the back. Arguments, conversation I should’ve spoken and justifying my actions were created in my mind. The nerve of her to question my faith and actions! I was only following instructions. I treated them with respect. I was kind, understanding and compassionate. I didn’t argue or defend my actions. I was treated unfairly! I was judged incorrectly. I felt there was no opportunity in the situation to clarify myself and therefore bring about understanding.
Jesus was misunderstood. Perhaps he was the most misunderstood person that ever lived. As my thoughts moved in this direction, I remembered Pastor Brian’s benediction that previous Sunday. He challenged us to contemplate the question, “How do I listen to Jesus?” And with that challenge, my thoughts reversed and I started really listening to what they were saying to me. It was not in the words they spoke. And, it was not in their rude behavior and refusal to allow us to check their belongings. It was in their subconscious perspectives and feelings that I recognized what they were really trying to say. “Don’t judge us. Don’t let society’s views of homeless people reside in your hearts. Be the hands and feet of Jesus who fostered no biases, but loved and showed compassion to the unlovely, less fortunate, and fragile, feeble folks. We are here not because we want to be, but because situations, that we for the most part have no control over, have put us here.”
Okay. I’m listening Jesus. But I don’t think I have biases towards the homeless. I know that women are vulnerable to become victims and there are valid reasons why they are homeless.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Psa 139:23-24
Ouch! Maybe I did judge them. I even made the comment to someone that they were homeless but they all had cell phones. I have a cell phone and a cellular plan. I know the costs involved with that. Why not put that money towards rent? Jesus had no preconceived ideas of the people on the fringes that he related to. Searching my heart, I realized I often harbor the thought that they got into this situation because of poor choices they made. And in thinking that, I quickly put myself on a different level, a better-than-thou level. This inward contemplation was too revealing and hurt a bit. Maybe I’m not as compassionate as I thought. Maybe the “preacher” at the shelter was what Pastor Brian wanted us to know…How do I listen to Jesus? And this time Jesus words were spoken by a homeless person.
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt towards those who differ from us, accept my repentance, Lord.