There is so much more.. everything, here in the city. More lights, more people, more stories, more things to do, more places to buy groceries; more sirens, more emergencies, more reasons to lock the door. There is more beauty here than I expected. And there is more hardness, too.
I've been asking questions, trying to get to know people here; questions like "How long have you been at this church? Have you always lived here? Do you have children in the school?" But I have yet to ask my big questions to these city-dwelling Christians:
How do you do live here, in the city, with all this human suffering at every street corner? And, how do you live here, with all the pizza and the neon and the nosie that distracts from the things that matter?
It is not safe here!
How do you live here without becoming hardened? or broken?
And I wonder quietly,
How will we live here without becoming hardened or broken?
My daughters and I helped out at a soup kitchen last weekend. My wide-eyed country girls handed out stale donuts and soup to people that smelled strange and acted strange, and, in some cases, had minds so foggy they couldn't even decide if they wanted coffee or tea. As they looked people in the eye, they were exposed to stories they are much too young to understand, but they served all morning with nervous kindness. One woman demanded a bowl full of sugar, and they had to say no. Another cursed them for not giving out two bags of candy. One accused us all of being in a cult, and with burning anger called us "pathetic" as she took her hot food. Was she mentally ill? Had she been injured by church people in the past? I don't know. I just poured her coffee.
Someone wantes us to post for a picture, so we smiled by the coffee pot, wearing our silly hair nets. It felt ridiculous: like we were tourists, getting a peek at human suffering, collecting souveniers for our do-gooder scrapbooks. We gave a couple hours of simple service. It didn't feel like anything that could remotely make a dent.
I poured a coffee for a woman wearing three winter coats, and she responded with an uncomfortable amount of gratitude. "Oh thank you so, so much; this is so good what you do here, you don't even know... it's just so good, oh thank you, thank you."
I was uncomfortable because her gratitude was misdirected. I didn't buy the coffee, or make it; I didn't arrange the meal, collect the food, set up the tables, organize the volunteers. I literally just poured the coffee; the coffee that was not even mine, and I handed it to her.
But what else is there for the Christian to do, really? We pass along what is not ours. We take the gifts God gives us, and let them run through our fingers into the hands of others. And so often it feels like it doesn't even make a dent. But what else can we do? We keep on pouring the coffee. And when the needs are greater than a cup of coffee, our hearts break a little, and we remember that we are not enough.
Will be be broken or hardened by this place?
It is not safe here.
Father Tom has been doing this for years. I wanted to ask him how he has not become hard, or broken. He spoke to us all after the meal, describing the people they serve (six days a week!). As his words showed us his heart, I saw that it does have broken pieces- how can it not after the time he's spent with the poor? And yet, he does not despair. He just keeps pouring coffee, feeding the poor, and encouraging others to do the same.
It is not safe.
But it is not safe anywhere in this broken world. And we serve a broken God; God broken for us, who pours his love into us, that we might pour it out onto our neighbor.
I see this in the teachers here, and those who have served in this community a long time. I see the beauty of the broken heart. Hearts broken in loving service to the neighbor are also hearts comforted by the love of God in Christ.
May He keep on breaking us that He may remake us, emptying us that He may fill us, and moving us with compassion that we may pour His love out into our neighbors. All good things come from His hand- to God be the glory.