I don’t know exactly how to say this. I do not intend to offend in any way, and yet I feel like it must be said. This has been rolling around in my mind and heart for some time now, and now here we are.
‘Tis the season.
I had a call about three weeks ago from a friend of an acquaintance. The acquaintance knew I had volunteered with the Sunday night suppers at the park and at Daybreak, and her friend was looking for a soup kitchen/food serving program to be a part of. She called me and asked me to speak with her friend. This woman, the friend, explained what she was looking for. I told her we didn’t have the suppers on Sunday nights anymore. I let her know about some of the programs that she could contact and see if they needed volunteers. As we talked she asked me for numbers for the programs. I sat down with my laptop and looked them up. She was looking for something local, and we really don’t have regular daily soup kitchen programs here in town that I am aware of. I found one with a contact number but they wouldn’t need volunteers for another couple of weeks. When I shared this with the woman, she became very frustrated. I got the sense that she needed to, for whatever reason, serve in a soup line sooner rather than later. And she especially wanted to serve in that capacity–not with a food pantry or clothing closet or the like. As she said goodbye I was sad and confused but not surprised.
This time of year folks want to serve food to folks in need.
I actually saw someone post on Facebook asking where would be a good place to help out now that it’s cold and folks are hungry.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, our friends without homes and those with homes who are living in extreme poverty are hungry when it’s hot in the summer, when the weather is kinder in the spring, when the leaves begin to change colors, and now–when the temperatures are dipping into the 20’s and 30’s overnight. The hunger factor doesn’t change. It’s just that the cold and the holidays, for whatever reason, make us think of them and remember that they are in need. I don’t know what it is–maybe the story of this season of a young pregnant woman and her husband far from home and in need of a place to stay on a dark night? In need of someone to say yes and offer them help?
That story is a part of ours all year long, just as are the stories of our friends in need. None of these stories go away after the wrapping paper is in the can at the curb waiting to be hauled away. They still remain after the “Auld Lang Syne” and toasting of the New Year. Their stories and the one of the young mother with no place to go are with us, very real. And we should be listening to their stories and figuring out what we are called to do in the midst of their poverty and need. All. Year. Long.
When we spent our Sunday nights at the park serving the sweet tea and coffee and hot chocolate we toted up to Macon, I had several people ask me why I went, what was my reason for going. After a lot of thought and processing what happened to me every time I was there, I finally had an answer.
I went to the park to see Jesus.
Unfortunately I was rarely asked to clarify my answer. Folks just nodded, either figuring they knew what I meant or that I was as loony as they come, and that they didn’t need to know what I meant. And so it was left out there. And I’m afraid it might have been misleading.
When we gathered with our friends in the park under that grand old tree, there was laughter and conversation and quiet discussions about the hard work of living, and hugs and joyful celebrations of days and weeks of sobriety, jobs attained, applications accepted, families reunited, and commiserating over loss after loss-deaths of friends, jobs lost, succumbing to addictions, and being pushed out of a spot in a parking garage or by the river or in an old warehouse. There were relationships happening and people joining together. It was community and unity of people who might not have found themselves together in any other circumstance. It was precious and unique, and it was beautiful. And in the midst of it, I know Jesus was right there fellowshipping with us. I didn’t see him in the eyes of my friends there, and I sure hope they didn’t try to see him in mine. The thing is, none of us are perfect. We’re all just living the life we have, traveling down the path in front of us. I think if we try to “be Jesus” for our friends, the pressure is just too great. And if we look to find Jesus in our friends we will find ourselves rudely awakened at some point. Again, the pressure is too great, and no one can live up to that. All of us will wind up disappointed. We are all just children looking for our way, full of imperfections and dreams and doubts and fears and hopes and hearts that want and need validation and love. But we are not Jesus.
But I believe he is there. When we are gathered together like that, he is among us. The Light is there. And it is good.
So what am I trying to say?
Not everyone is called to help by going out and meeting folks face to face–whether at a shelter, a place where meals are served, a food pantry, or a clothing closet. Some are called to help in the background, maybe quietly maybe not, and passionately, by sharing the gifts and talents they’ve been given and supporting those programs with resources and prayer, for example. But if you are one of the ones who feels called to meet people on the front-line, and you feel called to serve folks in need in a soup kitchen or church hall–
Don’t serve our friends a meal this year.
Not unless you have time to enjoy conversations and get to know people. Not unless you are willing to make plans to do this again in January. Or March. Or July. September. It’s those forgotten months that are hard on the organizations and folks trying to help everyday. It’s the forgotten months that are especially hard on our friends who are in dire need–of the spiritual food of relationships as well as food for their bodies–every single day.
And it’s the forgotten months, in my opinion, that are hard on Jesus too. I think he loves a good hootenanny, a “happenin’,” as my Mama would call them. A gathering where folks are full of love for each other, each one helping as he or she can…..a place where folks show respect for each other no matter their differences–I think those are some of Jesus’ very favorite places to be.
Our friends hunger for more than just food. And more than just food is necessary for survival. Mother Teresa put this truth into these words:
So as this season brings the needs of others to the forefront and you feel a stirring in your heart to go and “feed the homeless,” don’t. Unless you are willing to bring food for the soul as well. Good conversation, getting to know each other, respect, a listening ear. I promise you the folks who come to share the meal won’t leave hungry. And neither will you.
May this holiday season take you out of your comfort zone. Whatever that may look like. Love to all.