We all have people in our lives for whom our hearts break and we weep. Several of those people, for me, are people I have met on the streets of Capitol Hill. Homeless, more often than not addicted to drugs, basically living destructive lifestyles with the expected end of tragic, hopeless death. My heart grieves for so many out on Broadway. I have loved them by listening to their stories, resisting their attempts to push me out of their lives, hoping for them in their otherwise hopeless situations, and praying for their redemption. I have tried to treat them as fellow human beings, recognizing their personhood and the fact they are image bearers of God. I have tried to love them as Christ would have loved them, in a way different than what this world offers, different than the weak love to which they had grown accustomed. I thought I had been doing a good job until recently, when the truth of the matter was exposed. I love very poorly.
Love happens in relationship. It is the giving and receiving of pleasure for the glory of God. However, in my relationships with street folks I just did the giving, no receiving. I tried to make sure people felt heard and seen. All the while I lost myself. My heart grieved every time people would talk about shooting up, or show me their abscesses, or share about the inevitability of their slow and painful deaths. Yet, when I would express my sadness through words, sometimes tears, it didn’t seem to matter to those who were causing my grief. My feelings didn’t matter. Why should they? I was not another person, but just a listening ear, an “it.”
I write this not to accuse or to blame, as I acknowledge my own culpability. In order to be more than an “it” requires a willingness on my part to be seen as a person and to invite others to be in relationship with me. That involves openness, vulnerability, and certain risk of rejection and betrayal. I have hidden behind the safety of being “helper” and in doing so there has been a loss of humanity for myself and to those I care about by not engaging with them as a person, but rather an “it.” This is not the bold love of Christ.
When Jesus loved it was with no loss of Himself, but in fact everything of Him, literally. He was open, honest, and vulnerable and suffered the greatest rejection and betrayal. He gave His life. The nails in His hands and feet, the wound in His side, everything He felt matters, shown in the fact that He still bears those scars. In giving everything He never lost His own identity. In fact, by His sacrificial love He has given us our identities. He refuses to be an “it,” safety net, source of the warm and fuzzies, or wishing well, because “its” can’t love. In His personhood, He wants to be in relationship where He can truly and wonderfully love us. Although it is easy and familiar to be the “it,” it is a position I want to retire. Jesus Christ died and rose again not for a listening ear, but for me, His child. - susan
"And I will be a Father to you, and you shall be my sons and daughters to Me, says the Lord Almighty” 2 Corinthians