If anyone has spent enough time serving those experiencing poverty and homelessness, you will know it is not for the faint of heart.
I’m not talking about the stories of trauma, tragedy or loss which I have – sadly – come to expect. No, I’m talking about something a little more delicate. It’s the experience of not having everyone you help respond in quite the way you’d expect.
On the one side are those individuals who are just so easy to serve. Humble, courteous and kind, they are a joy to be around and I am grateful to know them. Just a few weeks ago, after praying with one young lady, she blessed me by praying over me and asking God’s favour in my life. A wonderful and unexpected act of kindness.
And then there are those who are not so easy to serve.
Some individuals can be disruptive, pushy and rude. While others can be downright aggressive. Just a few months ago, not long after welcoming a young man to our drop-in and directing him to our breakfast buffet, I had to ask him to leave for the day because of his aggressive behaviour towards others. Unapologetic, he left while yelling profanities into the crowd. While we always extend grace, we also recognize when a ‘time out’ is essential.
Not the picture of loving, compassionate service that some may envision.
There is always a tension that’s felt between serving the ‘lovable’ and so-called ‘unlovable.’ It’s inevitable, regardless of the kind of service or mission field one finds oneself in.
But it is often in these moments that I am reminded of my own ‘unlovability.’ Me, whose life is ‘charmed’ by comparison to my street-engaged friends. I am reminded of the times I’ve been unkind, rude and downright mean towards others, family and strangers alike. I can be selfish, impatient, disagreeable, unpleasant, ill-natured, and hurtful towards those who care for me.
These are all true of me: a professing Christian.
And yet, Jesus chose to love me anyway. Even me, who is unlovable, is loved.
So in these moments when the difficulties of service are most acute, I am reminded of the unmerited favour I receive daily, and thank God for his example of how to love even the unlovable.