A group of us from North Atlanta recently helped out at a homeless shelter in downtown Atlanta. Upstairs in the church’s old gymnasium there were dozens of single mattresses stacked up for the 70 or so men to sleep on. As the men came in from the drizzly cold night they each took a mattress and put it against the wall with their belongings. The men milled around and then sat calmly waiting for dinner. It was sad to see so many men in need and down on their luck. As I spoke to a few of them, they told stories of being laid off and being unable to provide. Many wanted to work, but the economy had hit them hard and they were on the edge financially. I was honestly surprised by their humility and gentle attitude. They freely shared their struggles, their need for help, their heartbreak and their even their hopefulness…it was all wrapped in a somber humility.
There were two young men there that evening who were not in our group. They were college students from nearby Georgia Tech. I asked them why they were there.
Turns out these two guys take turns staying up all night watching over the 70 men that sleep there. They do this almost once a week. One stays up for a while and the other one sleeps and then the other guy watches the men for his shift. They were there to protect the men, watch for unusual activity, respond to sickness, fire or other issues…basically they were there to serve, protect and care for these men. I was profoundly struck by their commitment and service to these homeless men and their kind generosity.
After seeing this beautiful display of love from these college students to those in need I wonder this…I wonder if we are like the homeless men described here. Even in our plenty, life can throw us curve balls at a pretty fast clip. Some days are filled with isolation, depression, worry, fear, emptiness and hopelessness. But are we humble like the homeless men I saw? Are we open to God about our need, do we walk through the cold rain to seek his helping hand? Do we ask for and do we humbly take the help that God offers? Do we need a protector to “stay up all night” watching over us and caring for us? Do we have the spirit of a humble homeless man who admits his need for a protector?
…or, on the other hand, do we have everything under control, everything buttoned up. Some days I think I’m strong enough to not need anyone’s help. Some days I know I live my life in the confidence of my own strength, personality, power and smarts.
Something strange happened as we left the gym. As we began to walk out, the homeless men stopped what they were doing and clapped for us. I was so overwhelmed I almost cried. There we were…headed back to our large insulated suburban homes, and they were saying thank you…to us. That image reminds me to say thank you to God, especially in my times of need and want, at times when I feel hopeless and empty…to say thank you for his protection, his provision, his kindness, his love and his care over us. Thanks be to God.
Psalm 146: 7-9 He (God) upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry (not just physical food). The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down (humble), the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. (emphasis added)