This is another one of those endless thought cycles that I get stuck in…and I’m not sure how it’s going to look written out….
So, I’ve been struggling all year with trying to find the balance at work. To live and work according to the mission statement of the place. It was created for the church to maintain a presence downtown. The overture in the beginning was that it was for the student population, but we pretty quickly discovered that the homeless like it as well. So….how to keep it an open and welcoming space for all….
Because here’s the thing…there are LOTS of different types of homeless people. Some of them…you wouldn’t even know it until you get to know them. Some of them have obvious mental or emotional reasons for being homeless, that occasionally affect other areas of their lives (like social interactions). Some of them are drug users. Some of them are homeless for just a bit, during a rough patch while they get back on their feet…some of them are caught in a cycle of homelessness. Sometimes, the sum of these things can make things less easy….and if they are hanging around, make the space less welcoming. I mean, people don’t want to buy food in a place that doesn’t smell too good. People don’t want to study or meet in a space that there are constant interruptions. People certainly don’t want to hang out in a place where they don’t feel safe (although this is something that I think is very, very rare).
But, as Christians, we’re called to love everyone. Even if they aren’t all that clean, or have certain social things that make them less fun to be around. Plus if we’re honest, we ALL have those things…things we do that aren’t pleasant and make us not fun to be around. Some of them aren’t as obvious as others, but we’ve all got them, to some degree.
But (again, this space isn’t designed as a Christian hang out. It’s a place where anyone (specifically marketed at students, but anyone) can come….to be welcomed and accepted. And the hope is that through our open and loving attitude, through our welcoming space, through our service (even if it is just coffee or water or a listening ear) people will WANT to know about Christianity….and want to take a step closer to God.
So our ‘target audience’ isn’t Christian. And we shouldn’t expect non-Christians (or even other Christians, really) to live by ‘Christian’ standards. I mean, some Christians feel convicted to never consume alcohol, or swear. Some are okay with that. And even the ‘biggies’ that all of Christianity pretty much agrees on (do not covet, respect your parents, etc) we can’t expect non-Christians to live by. I’m pretty sure one of those ‘biggies’ is loving the homeless. I mean, loving OTHERS….and they would fall into that category.
Isn’t telling someone ‘Homeless are people too, and if you can’t study with this guy interrupting you, or can’t eat with the smell of feet about you…then that’s something that’s wrong with YOUR heart and YOU need to fix it’ pretty much the same as telling them ‘oh, you can’t smoke…or swear….or wear that shirt’.
(just to be clear, these aren’t things that the church is trying to say, or that the place is trying to say, just arguments that are running around in my own confused head).
Plus, I have certain…well, personality faults that make me seem….well, unloving. I don’t really like to be touched, and I suck at conversation. With EVERYONE. With my friends, my family, random college kids that come in to chat…and the homeless. But I’d be a liar if I didn’t say that I want that dirty guy to hug me less than I want one of my huggy friends to hug me….or that I’d dread a conversation about my shoes from a guy with a foot fetish while I’d openly chat with a girl friend about them. So personally, if I’m honest, I’m not exactly loving them all that much either, and it’s something that I struggle with on a daily basis….and I’d really feel like a hypocrite to ask someone else to do the same.
So there’s my weird struggle right now.
I really stressed out about it yesterday. It was a REALLY slow day. And I was there by myself all day. Well, work-wise by myself (as in no helper) but did have the company of a certain young man for most of the day. A few months ago he got to feeling really down and injured himself…but had been doing better for awhile. Had a job, and a place to live….but that didn’t work out and now he’s around a lot again.
He got some money yesterday, and bought himself a knife. He was really proud and showed it off to me. It didn’t really concern me much….because he really isn’t a dangerous guy…he was proud of it like a new toy. Weird, but whatever.
Since it was slow, I spent a lot of the day getting some cleaning done. The cleaning closet is in the men’s room, which provides LOTS of options for awkward interactions. So at one point, he came in, and I left the restroom (thoroughly embarrassed, I prefer to think that no one else uses the bathroom, ever).
Did a few things more things….and wanted to get back to my cleaning….but then I realized he was still in there.
And still in there.
And still in there.
In there a really long time.
At some point, the thought popped into my brain ‘so this kid, who hurt himself just a few months ago, went and bought a knife today, and has now been in that bathroom, alone with said knife, for a very long time.’
Begin the freak out.
Because the last thing I EVER want to do is allow someone to do a very bad thing…when I could have stepped in and stopped said very bad thing. The second to last thing I EVER want to do is interrupt someone when they are using the bathroom. Or have them notice that I noticed how long they were in the bathroom. Or that they were in the bathroom.
I tried not to hyperventilate, prayed a LOT, really really hard….and not always in an unselfish manner. I mean, it started out as unselfish “please, PLEASE God…don’t let him be doing anything bad in there. i’m SUPER sorry that i didn’t spend more of my day talking with him instead of cleaning.” then is started to go downhill a little “*i* don’t know what *i* would do, i mean, if *i* didn’t do something then this would be all *my* fault…me me me me me” ugh.
Then he came out of the bathroom, looked at me and asked if *I* was alright (hrm…apparently didn’t pull off that calm and collected look so well) and went out for a smoke.
You can draw your own conclusions about that one.