So yesterday I found out that a young person I used to work with had committed suicide.
He would have now been in his mid twenties. I would have first met him when he was about 19.
It’s one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of news to receive, despite the fact that when you work with young people, news like this sometimes comes more often than you would ever wish.
Because you never-ever wish it. And it always hits you in the gut and leaves you breathless.
I’m a firm believer in happy endings, despite the fact that sometimes I don’t understand why the ending isn’t happy.
I’m a firm believer in God and in His goodness, despite the fact that sometimes I don’t understand. Full stop.
This young person’s story was not so unusual. Homeless in his teens. Bounced from family member to children’s home. Unemployed.
I remember the first time I saw him, he was sitting in my office, blood stains on his face from a head wound gained in some fight involving bottles, promising me he wanted to change this time.
And he did change. Step by step.
But some wounds don’t heal as quickly as the ones left by smashing glass, and some pain doesn’t get fixed by finding a job.
I actually believe that only Jesus can free us from that depth of darkness. And even then it’s often a walking out wrestling rather than a quick fix solution.
But I remember this kid, and I remember his eyes, and I remember his hopelessness, and I remember thinking about how much Jesus loved him.
And today I was thinking about this painful yet beautiful journey of loving people in the brokenness, even when it breaks us to do so. And I was thinking about the connection that comes when you truly gaze into someone’s face, eye-to-eye, life-to-life, heart-to-heart, and really see them.
I was thinking about being 15 years old. Me and some friends used to trek into the city to go to this cool youth event at a big church there and worship Jesus. And in our youthful enthusiasm for following Jesus we would often buy coffee and cake for some homeless guys we would see on the journey. We would write Bible verses on the cups, and we would smile, and we would genuinely want to reach out in some small way, even if we didn’t really have a clue where to start, and I think God smiled on our weak attempts and used them anyway. Only there was this one time that, for some reason, we didn’t just buy the coffee and run. We were on our way to MacDonalds, and we offered to buy this guy dinner. With us. Like, to eat with us. Like a person. Like our friend.
And I remember this guy talking about how the worst thing about being homeless was being unseen. About how people, even when they gave you money or food, they didn’t really look into your eyes and connect with you as another human being.
I was thinking about another time, not long after I’d gone into full time youth work. I must have been about 20. And I was leading a church meeting for a bunch of young people who were mostly non-Christian or new Christian. And we had felt we should call people forward if they wanted prayer and a bunch of kids had come. And there was this one girl who I had been working with for a year or more who I had such a heart for. She was pretty badly excluded by her friends because of some hygiene issues, and she was standing at the front of church crying so hard with her hands stretched out to the God she didn’t yet know in this desperate way. And as I approached her to pray I could see that physically, her clothes were in bad shape and she had the worst case of headlice I have ever to this day seen. These headlice were literally crawling everywhere.
And I remember approaching her to pray, and seeing this, and hearing the voice of God all in an instant. And He said to me, you pray with her and you love her and you pray close. Head to head. Looking into her eyes.
Honestly? I stopped. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a big part of me that didn’t say, ‘but God, I’ll get headlice. That’s too much.’ Which is why I know that it’s only Holy Spirit and His power that opened my eyes to love her with this wave of love so strong that all of a sudden that didn’t matter at all. Only her healing mattered.
So we prayed. Head to head. We both cried bucketfuls of messy tears.
Oh. And I never did get headlice.
I wish I could love people better than I do. I wish I know be the hands of Jesus better than I am. I wish I would take the time to really look into the eyes of others in a way that recognises their humanity and their worth to the God who has done everything to be close to them.
And so this morning. These were my thoughts and my prayers and my memories. And for whatever reason it made me slow down.
I was walking through an underground shopping area, and all of a sudden I was hit my the people I was passing. I walked right past a homeless guy, surrounded by bags, his head on a table trying to sleep. And I walked right on past him, like I’m relatively sure I do every day.
But today I stopped. I did a u-turn, via Starbucks. I bought the guy breakfast. And I looked into his eyes as they filled with tears, and felt afresh that this is what Jesus is looking for.
What do we do for the weak. And the poor. And the outcast. How do we weep for the broken. And the hopeless. And the cast out. When do we slow down enough to look into the eyes of another in a way that sees them as a son or daughter of the same Father.
I am praying you will join me in the prayer to change.
Oh, and here’s a pretty beautiful spot we headed to yesterday after church. 🙂