A few weeks ago we had some guests that didn’t show signs of ever leaving.
The first night we happily fed our guests. We watched nature shows, and talked with them about the big-ness of the world. We held our breath when he smoked. We pulled out our sleeping mat and said, “sleep here, if you please.” We fed them breakfast in the morning, and expected them to head back home. We turned a blind eye when they foraged around the yard, picking fruit, and other things. We started counting the hours. And then it rained.
And then it was night. We scraped together another dinner, but smaller. We didn’t turn the TV on, but looked at pictures instead. We grudgingly held our noses when he smoked (and then when she smoked, and then when their kids asked for a puff). We pulled out our sleeping mat with heavy hearts. We weren’t too sad when they decided to sleep next door at our neighbor’s (empty) house where they could build a fire if they got cold in the middle of the night.
The next morning, we made breakfast. We wondered, “will they ever leave?” We watched them start to make their rounds around the yard, picking up nuts that had fallen from the trees. With grumpy hearts, Michael and I sat down to read our Bibles (true confession: it’s super incredibly rare that we ever sit down together and read, but on this day we did). Michael turned to me and said, “you better not read Romans 12. It’s a little too personal.”
So of course I read it. Here’s some of what it says:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering…
…if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face…Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians, be inventive in hospitality.
…Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody…
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness…” (the Message)
The family that stayed-on-too-long exposed us. Sometimes we convince others (and ourselves) that we rock this working-with-the-disadvantaged thing. We feel like we can see the beauty in everyone, and are good at helping the needy (in a way that doesn’t end up hurting them in the end).
That family is the exact sort of people that we are here to help. They define the word disadvantaged. She was 8 months pregnant. The two kids had the telltale stick out bellies that show they need worm medicine. Their clothes were tattered and unwashed. The wife and kids do not know how to read. The husband looks like he has chronic lung disease—maybe from smoking, maybe from TB. They have the pale skin of low nutrition. And, because they do the stay-on-too-long routine everywhere they visit, not many people in this community like them.
But, we did not serve them with a smile. Sure we may have smiled (through gritted teeth) when they we around, but our hearts were oh so definitely not smiling. We most definitely got irritated with them. We were depressed when we thought they would never leave. We showed only the bare minimum of hospitality. And we had a hard time seeing their beauty through the grime and smell. They messed up our little comfortable world, and our little comfortable routine.
It’s good have my heart exposed. It’s good to remember that it’s only, “with God helping you,” that I can serve others. No, I don’t naturally want to serve people I don’t like, but God working in me makes it possible.