As I tap the ash off of my cigar and mull over the past 14 hours, I am struck yet again by the overwhelmingly consistent yet often frustrating and mysterious love of God for people.
You see, God’s love isn’t convenient. It doesn’t ever take the easy way. And that’s often annoying to me. I’ll be the first to tell you that generally I’m a selfish person. If we are all brutally honest with ourselves and our affections and desires we’d all come to the conclusion that we are selfish. There are times, moments, tastes of selflessness but they are vastly outnumbered by selfish motivations and actions. I’m no different.
God has placed me at NYCR in part, to teach me to face my selfish heart and slowly, consistently work on and change it. While our 30 year anniversary block party was raging on today in Harlem, I sat down, much against my own selfish will, with a 78 year old man and invest in his life for about an hour.
Life care visits (LCVs), as we call them, are one-on-one deep dives into the lives of people struggling with homelessness or poverty and are a huge part of what we do as an outreach leader for NYCR. Oftentimes long and detailed LCVs can be very taxing emotionally, mentally, or spiritually: today’s was no different. I had to meticulously go over information with this man who needed me to write it down as well because he has a bad memory and was afraid he would forget it as soon as he walked down the block. I didn’t know this information and so it was somewhat frustrating to my selfish self to have to take the time to care for him in this way. The information that I went over with him was supposed to give him several types of senior housing options he could get in NYC, assuming he had insurance. When the information had been passed on and written down I set him up an email so we could check his medicaid status. He told us he has gone to the HRA offices in the area several times and hasn’t ever received any benefits or living assistance. With his newly created email we tried to make him an account online to check the status of his aforementioned medicaid so I could advise him on next steps.
When it came time to enter his SS# in order to check the status, he told me he didn’t have a social security number. Come to find out he is undocumented and that explains why he hasn’t received any benefits from the government. The frustrating part for me was that he had already been asked if he was a citizen and he had said yes, and that’s why I was advised by a much more knowledgeable coworker to do what I had done for him. It was definitely a let down for me because if we had known this beforehand then I wouldn’t have had to use up as much of my outreach time trying to get futile information for him.
Now, I realize that that sounds incredibly selfish; see paragraph 2. It was definitely an upsetting realization that there was next to nothing that I could do for this man but in the moment I had a hard time not thinking that it had just been time wasted.
As my wise and God-fearing coworkers told me after, it hadn’t been time wasted. Nothing God does is wasted; even when we think that it is. I was given the chance to come alongside God in the encouragement and love that he wanted to display to this man in Harlem on a hot Saturday. In moments like these, my gut reaction is sin. My immediate thoughts are selfish.
I am wrong.
This elderly man hadn’t experienced the level of conciseness and dedication to getting information across to him and he made that very clear. He thanked me profusely for taking the time and explaining things and writing them down for him. He needed to be listened to and seen and heard and cared for today. I was given the opportunity to be God’s stand-in for all that in his life and I was complaining because it seemed like a waste to me in the moment. I am a bit stubborn when it comes to learning about who God is and how he operates. It’s just so beyond me that I don’t tend to think about his heart for a person or situation before thinking about my own.
God could have easily given that frustrating opportunity to uncover just a tad bit more of his heart to any of the other outreach leaders today in Harlem but he chose to give it to me. His love for this man was so far beyond mine that it frustrated me. The demonstration of His concern for and intentional entry into this man’s life wasn’t even close to what it truly is. Sometimes I feel like a baby who “needs spiritual milk” before being fed the meat that I should be eating as a mature believer.
God’s grace towards me today was equal if even more than towards this man in that, he chose to teach me. His lesson of love was the gentle uncovering of sin in my own heart towards what I was called too. When my selfishness gets in the way of what God is trying to work in someone, it’s frustrating because I don’t get it. Time spent just listening to and showing interest in and care for a struggling man’s situation isn’t fun. It’s not cheap. It’s actually very costly.
But that’s how God loves.
Constant grace poured out,