When your heart breaks for the broken

This morning I planned to write of God’s lavish generosity. Now I cannot.

I passed too many broken people on the street on my way home. Two slouched against a wall, cardboard signs proclaiming fragments of their stories. An old man sprawled near the crosswalk, useless legs angled awkwardly beneath him. A stooped grandfather paced, weeping, pleading with passersby for just a few cents. Most did not raise their eyes from the pavement, spirits and bodies broken from years of neglect and abuse.

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy . . . . Is that not what it means to know me?declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)

How different, this, from our comfortable ideas of what it means to know God.  I cry out to know God, to hear his heartbeat. Today he shows up not with warm comfort but with a summons into lives and places I fear to go. His heart, which beats rest and peace and generosity, beats for all. It beats justice and love and hope and righteous anger and it beats that this homelessness and hopelessness is not how things were meant to be. Every person should know they are special. Every one should belong.

I cannot hear the heartbeat of God unless I am willing to go where it can be heard. He walks among the desperately needy. When I refuse to follow, fearing the disclosure of my own desperate poverty, his heartbeat fades into the distance. I long to know God, to hear his heartbeat and have mine beat in time with his. . . yet still I freeze when I walk past someone sitting on the scrap of pavement they call home.

Our worlds are so far apart. I don’t know how to connect. What does it mean for me – an introvert who struggles with meeting new people no matter who they are, a person with a disability that prevents me standing for more than a few minutes, a resident of a large western city – what does it mean for me to defend the cause of the poor and needy?

I don’t know yet.

I do know that the enormity of the need is overwhelming. Thankfully, I am not asked to care for all. Hope comes through healing relationships, and I cannot befriend everyone.
God does not ask me to befriend everyone. But he does call me to see each person as one who bears his image, however tarnished it might be.  Every image bearer, whether a friend, a checkout clerk, or someone living rough, deserves certain simple courtesies: a smile, a kind response to their words, an acknowledgement of their presence. With time, maybe I can even learn to speak a gentle greeting first. And I can always whisper a prayer to the only One who can restore their health and freedom, to the only One able to heal the fear that keeps me from reaching out.
I can ask God to help me see them as he sees them, to see myself as he sees me. To help me remember how little difference there is between us.
I can refuse to shut out the pain. I can continue to listen for God’s heartbeat, allowing the longing for justice and hope to grow.  I can choose to follow the sound of his heartbeat, though I do not know where it will lead.
Today, that is all that He asks.