I love the conversations I have with our residents at the shelters. A good number of our guests are trying to overcome heavy drug or alcohol addictions, and almost all are dealing with hurts and bitterness. It can be hard for us to relate to those who are struggling with serious addictions- I struggled with it for years. I tended to see the problem or dysfunction on the outside, and had difficulty getting to know the person or see their hurts on the inside. We all tend to want to avoid problems. If we have problems, we tend to avoid those who can help us and if we see problems in others, we like to turn the other way ourselves. I’ve spent a good part of my life trying to carve out a comfortable world for myself. As much effort as I have spent focusing on myself, the Lord has a way of moving me out of my comfort zone and into a caring zone. I’m assuming everyone can relate to my struggle.
When I first started serving at A Ray of Hope, I was outside my comfort zone a good part of the time. The biggest change in my heart came five years ago when I was building Peggy’s House. I was desperate for help and I cried out to God for it. He lifted up the residents of the Men’s Shelter and they were thrilled to jump in and help me. I was now the one in need and they joyfully met it. There were many times I wanted to quit building that house, but obviously that was not an option. How do you quit building on a women’s shelter? I was in my late 50’s and the task seemed daunting and strenuous. One day, I was walking on the top of a third floor wall doing truss layout, and I thought, what am I doing? I can’t do this anymore. So I sat down on the wall, shimmied back, and used an extension ladder to layout the trusses. That fall the smoke was thick and my will was thin. We lacked labor, we lacked funds, and I lacked energy. Peggy Christensen had cancer and was determined to see this house to completion- I’m convinced my slow schedule added six months to her life! She passed away a few days after our grand opening. I look back now and see how the Lord tested me and how He provided along the way.
Our roles were reversed: those whom I had been helping, now were meeting my need, and I fell in love with them. The Lord gave me a taste of being in need, and of being grateful when others met my need. My love for them moved from a surface love to a deep love. I don’t feel I have a counselor/counselee relationship anymore, but more that I’m with my friends. I no longer see a gap between others and myself, I see that we are all in need of the love and mercy of the Savior, and the more we can turn toward each other in the process, and not turn away, the more we create the community the Lord is looking for. Rejecting or avoiding those who are different than us is merely a deepening of the wound that is really causing the difference in the first place. What others need to see, is that we truly love Jesus and genuinely love them.
If we focus on the dysfunction, we’ll lose the relationship, and they’ve had a lifetime of that. If we truly love, heart to heart, we can help others realize that they are really only one decision away from being right with their Creator, Who will take them as they are and bring about the change of the heart after the plunge. There’s hope! And yes, He does have the answers to our hurts and problems! Hard to turn that down, and yet many do- for now.
Some will visit our Bible studies even after they leave the shelter. They see the Lord there and are interested, yet there is that struggle to take the step of faith to the other side. But, some do, and that makes it all worthwhile. Can I trust God, and can this God forgive, love, and watch over me? What will He expect of me if I choose Him? We can cover hard conversations and be perfectly honest, and yet know that we love each other and there is no offense taken. If a person is sincere in their beliefs, even if they are different than my own, that’s okay. I used to have different and interesting beliefs myself, and still do in some ways, and yet God has been gracious with me! Our love and care for each other has to be greater than our own love of self.
Our greatest calling is love. All Scripture points us to loving God and others (Mt 22:36-40). The Lord says that if we are loving others like we love ourselves, then we are doing His will. Sounds simple, and it is, we just need to elevate others to the way we love ourselves. And if we love others like we love ourselves, we’ll also be loving our Lord. This is the community our Lord so desires. This is the love we so desire, but in order to gain it, we have to give it. Amen? Amen!