Ever since I attended a conference at Presbyterian College, Montreal, in February, I’ve been thinking of how the church can continue to care for the sick and the dying, as it has for hundreds, perhaps 2,000 years. My journey has taken me to three places.
The first came about because of my friend, Mercia, who used Red Cross transit for her weekly visits to her sister in a care facility. Although she appreciated the low cost of this ride, the timing was not convenient and made for a long, tiring day. I offered to drive her. Then I stayed to visit. Before long I agreed with the chaplain’s request to lead a hymn sing twice a month and I have gathered a dozen people who will go with me. We intend to show love to a segment of our population that moulders away, often forgotten; these are people who, in isolation, might choose death instead of life.
The next part of my path led to an arts collective where we wrestled with the challenges of funding a large creative project about sadness at Christmas. The performance of actors, dancers, musicians and visual artists would carry the audience beyond entertainment to broaden understanding and facilitate healing. While we worked and prayed over this undertaking, we grew in awareness of the needs of people from high priority neighbourhoods. After a while, we were led to a new focus and a new perspective. We discovered a book by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor … And Yourself. This way of seeing is exemplified by the Dale Ministries in Toronto, on which I reported in these pages in July. We are all broken and we all have something to contribute, so we travel together. Now, in addition to our theatre goals, we are searching out possibilities for opening an art drop-in where neighbours will have a safe place to spend time expressing their creativity.
Most recently, the trail stopped at my basement apartment. My new tenant does not make it easy for me to show caring. Brock is about the same age as my adult children. He has a history of drug abuse and rehabilitation, and a bad cough that testifies to his current cigarette addiction. He has just broken up with his girlfriend of seven years. Yesterday he heard that a former user-buddy was found dead by overdose. Brock is suffering.
Nothing in my life experience has taught me how to care for someone in these circumstances. As I give the usual, but woefully inadequate, condolences on Brock’s friend’s passing, I plead with the Holy Spirit to make good on promises about God’s strength made perfect in human weakness. Could it be that in God’s scheme of things a function of others’ weakness is to increase awareness of my own inadequacy? Can Brock help me learn about God?
Brock and I find ways to live together under the same roof. We negotiate sound levels. He agrees to walk his scooter over the lawn and close the gate after he passes through. He will smoke only outside the house and will contain cigarette butts, but I have a problem with smoke that lingers on hair and clothing when he comes inside. How do I maintain a faithful Christ-like presence with Brock while determining and protecting my personal boundaries?
The self-righteous part of me says I shouldn’t have to put up with infringements on my personal space. But the fact remains that people who have a difficult past and unpleasant habits need a good place to stay as much as anyone else. Maybe more. Who better to provide it than someone who follows Jesus? After all, Jesus gave up home and family for the sake of others, many of whom did not deserve or even want what he was offering.
In my struggling travels I notice that when I am in the presence of others’ brokenness, my own brokenness becomes more evident. My first response is often to lay blame and to judge, even while I am aware of how much I need the forgiveness and second chances that grace provides.
Where does this need for forgiveness and grace take me? I don’t know, but perhaps I am somehow being led home after all.