I have recently finished my week as the congregational coordinator for the Cold Weather Shelter. It was a hard week as we were not able to allow everyone who wanted a place to stay into the shelter. It was also hard to watch people who were full grown adults doing things to their bodies that really messed them up; drugs, alcohol and even sugar. I watched all of this with feelings of pity and even guilt. I guess that I wanted to help these guys, they were mostly men, to show them that life didn’t have to be so hard. I was also feeling a little self-righteous. “I would never have that happen to me.” “I am much stronger and better educated and I have family.” Once I began talking to the residents I realized that they all have a few things in common. They were all one paycheck away from being in trouble. They all have families that they are trying to get back to and they all want a better life than the one they were dealt. Now some of them have additional issues like mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction, and prison that exacerbate the trouble in their lives; but the ones who don’t are very similar to you and I.
I was given a taste of my own medicine by a rather inebriated man one night I was circulating among the residents asking how their day went, were they spent the day, if they needed anything. One man asked me why I was so mean to him. He asked me to sit down and talk to him. I did and he has the most beautiful eyes, a brilliant blue. I asked him why he thought I was being mean to him. He said it was because I never asked him about his day. So I did and he said, ”See, was that so hard?” I was taken aback by the statement but stayed to hear what he had to say. He said that people didn’t like to talk to him because they thought he was a drunk and was unable to communicate in a meaningful manner. He then asked me if I had ever been homeless. I said “No, by the grace of God, I had not ever been.” He said that I had not known the grace of God, that until I had been where he was I would not know what the grace of God is. He held up the bowl of stew I had just brought him and said, “This is the grace of God.” I said, “No that is the charity of man. The grace of God Is what allows the charity of man to happen. So I do know the grace of God.” He smiled, shook his finger at me and we parted friends, or as near to being friends as two people who come to the same place by different roads can be.
My week at the shelter is always eye opening. I learn that I am stronger and more capable than I think that I am. I also learn about the inherent goodness and generosity of the people of my church. I also learn that society is what we make it. I truly believe that “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”