Homelessness, juvenile delinquency, crime, road rage... and shopping cart rage ;) are all evidences of a broken humanity. They are problems, but we seem to accept them as inevitable and exempt of sustainable answers. Like priests and Levites, we walk by the unkempt on the far side of the sidewalk. Why are we afraid to look them in the eye?
I sense two fears that contribute to our ignoring people in these situations:
- There is no solution to the cause of their suffering.
- If a solution exists, it is too complex for my level of of knowledge, time restraints, or resources.
Love is both the means and the answer. I find this truer all the time.
G., aged 17, has earned her reputation. From where I sit to write this, I can see the hall with plywood nailed to the wall, covering the hole she left in the wall with her bare fist. One of my superiors no longer works this unit because G. threatens to (at the very least) maim her as soon as she steps through the door. She gleefully informed me of how many staff have quit on the spot due to her and her home-girls.
For the first few weeks, I didn't have a single issue with G. Maybe it's because I know the ghetto code: you get in some one's face, and you're asking for a fight; if someone gets in your face and you respond in kind, you're taking up the challenge to a fight. Maybe. It also has a lot to do with my belief that love is stronger than anything else. It seemed to be working in the prevention of showdowns, but would it work when one arose? How long would it take for G. to try to push me around?
It happened last week. I was sitting at the staff desk, finishing up my end-of-shift paperwork. G. and a peer were hanging over it, talking to me. The staff desk itself is a bone of contention. The kids aren't allowed behind it. The
"Oh, boy. Here we go," I thought as I asked her to move. G. grinned at me, a dimpled challenge. She kept talking, making the story she was telling more animated. I saw the challenge, but I wanted her to know that, while I was not going to let her disrespect slide, I was going to respect her in the process.
When she paused for breath, "G., did I ask you to do something?"
G. looked at her peer, a girl new to the unit. Was she going to use this opportunity to make sure V. knew where she ranked in the Hierarchy of Toughness? She launched into another stream of talk. It sure looked like it.
"G." I waited until she looked at me. "I hate to make a big deal about such a small thing as where you sit, but this IS the third time I'm asking you to move off the desk."
She stared me down while V. watched with wide eyes. A slow smile made G.'s dimple re-appear. "Know what?" she said to V., "she axs nice. I gonna do it for her. Yo, people gets in ma face an' it gets me mad, but she cool." She slid off the desk.
I thanked her and suppressed a fist pump. It worked! Weehah!
If you're in love with Jesus, you have what it takes to work change in the brokenness around you. Do the little things, the looking people in the eyes and smiling... but don't be content with the little things. Ask God to give you a vision for bigger ways to let the love you've been given touch others.
I see it happening all around me. A family took in a young neighbor girl and her little son who would have been taken by the state and put into separate foster care homes. They are on every family picture, their faces radiant, obviously thriving. How different would their lives be if my friends not opened their home? Would the girl, in search of love, have fallen into an abusive relationship? Would the she have learned to love her son well? Would her son have been another statistic of gang violence? For them, the cycle of lovelessness, neglect, and abuse has been broken.
Another family befriended a young couple, ages 18 and 17, trying to be parents to a 4-year-old and a baby. The young couple has no support from their parents, and already their relationship is fraught with tensions. Going to the zoo together, spending time at my friends' home... They are being shown how to love and respect each other; how to love their children. Recently, my friends invited the couple to live with them until they found a more suitable place to live, then helped them move. Was it a sacrifice? Absolutely! My friends have young children as well, but they'd rather inconvenience themselves than live for themselves.
A little girl in my town lives in a very chaotic home. A friend of mine spends a few evenings a week taking her to the playground to play or out for ice cream. The child is soaking up the love and attention, and she acts much less anxious than when I first met her.
Let love be your means, your impetus.
Let love be your offering.
We can change things.
Do something on your own. Collaborate with your friends, your family, your church. Get creative this summer. And the rest of this year. We can make a difference in the most difficult problems plaguing the human race... because we've been loved... by the Incarnation of Love.