I work in a homeless shelter and because I do, I see a lot of things people do not normally see. I am in this place for eight hours five days a week. I know many of the clients by name and I know how and why they are in a this homeless shelter. It is easy to let yourself become detached and cynical towards the homeless community. For a while I was. I was frustrated with the lack of motivation from clients and frustrated with the amount of help given to them with no “thank you’s” given in return.
I would like to ask you a question:
“How many times was Jesus thanked while he was walking around on this planet dirt?” I just googled it and I don’t think he was ever thanked by anyone. If he ever was thanked it was not very often. How many times did Jesus give thanks or tell his disciples to be thankful? Now this is recorded and I am pretty sure we have been commanded to be thankful in every situation.
Most of us have no idea what it is like to be homeless. We have no idea what it is like to have to carry everything we own on our backs. We don’t know what it is like to have no one to turn to because every single bridge we have is burned. Most of the time homelessness is a cycle. Many of the people in our shelter are here because their parents were homeless and the government has given them everything so they see no need to work for anything. Our welfare system is very flawed, but I’m not here to talk about that. Not everyone in this homeless shelter is trying to sponge off the government. Some of these people have been beaten by their spouses and have nowhere else to go. Some of these people have given their lives over to drugs or alcohol. A lot of them have been ostracized from their families because of reasons we will never understand. I have heard stories that will make you want to vomit. Terrible hurts I can never comprehend and neither can you. I’m telling you this because, as a 24 year old woman who has been given every opportunity in life, I know nothing of true struggle. Here is the problem I see surrounding homelessness and the people wanting to “help.”
People don’t want to help the homeless unless it feels good. I am not saying every single human being is like this, but I’m pretty sure about 80% of us are, and I’m including myself in the percentage. I just heard about a volunteer leaving and not wanting to come back because of “the attitude from the clients”. Our clients are broken people. They have been hurt by others so they want to appear tough and calloused. Most of them have been to jail, they’ve seen a few things. They are not thankful for your help. They do not care if you serve them meals or donate your old clothing. They are not going to see your smiling face and fall to their knees with gratitude to you because you gave up (insert said day or holiday) to help “the less fortunate.” If you are serving people and you feel cheated because those people you were serving disrespected you, I urge you to read the gospels again. I urge you to look into your own life and see how often you are disrespectful to the people around you. You are not their savior. You are a servant and servants oftentimes get treated poorly, are disrespected, and cheated of their share of the praise.
I have a quote from Ernest Hemingway taped onto my computer that says this:
“You must be prepared to work always without applause.”
As a Christian, you are meant to live a thankless life. The things you do are often only seen my God himself and no one else.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
This comes straight from the Bible in Matthew 6:1-4. When you go anywhere to serve; remember, you are always going back to your warm, comfy house with a stocked fridge and an endless stream of Netflix. The people you are serving are worried about more things than who is serving them lunch, or who donated their shirt. You are not serving to be treated with respect, you are serving because Jesus did. He served the people who hated him, the same people who hung him on the cross. Do not let your heart become hard. You do not deserve a thank you and neither do I.
The next time you serve a meal at your local shelter, or you come to help paint or wash walls, stay a little later instead of rushing home. Take in your surroundings and let a person tell you his or her story. Learn who these people are, because they are people, they aren’t your projects or a charity. They are real people with a real need for Jesus and a real need for people to care about them.
My husband Trevor and I got these following questions out of For the Love by Jen Hatmaker and they have moved us into realizing how much we rely on ourselves and where we put our identity:
- What in my life, if taken away, would alter my value or identity?
- What causes an unhealthy change of attitude, personality, or focus when “it” becomes threatened?
- What is the thing outside God that you put everything else on hold for?
The first question has made me realize, if I were homeless I would lose my identity. I have put my identity in my privilege instead of my God. Imagine yourself becoming homeless and how insecure and angry and scared it would make you. Now realize real people feel this way daily.
We are called to love. Called to genuinely love people. Lets try to take ourselves out of it the equation and just serve.