Yesterday I watched a friend of mine lie down in a puddle. It wasn’t a joke or a stunt of some kind. He’d been drinking; he has some psychiatric and post-trauma issues. He’d been sitting on Sanctuary’s front steps, and when he began to lie down in this shallow puddle, a couple of us said, “No, no, don’t lie down there – you’ll get wet.” Getting wet matters when you’re homeless: you have nowhere to dry out, especially in cool spring weather. But he lay down anyway, and wouldn’t move.
We chuckled a bit, his friends, and shook our heads. Jack being Jack, we said. (Jack is not his name.) And he lay there, curled up in a shallow puddle, in the drizzling rain.
Jack has been creating some problems around our community for several months. He’s been violent and threatening, enough so that for the time being we can’t allow him in the building, and some people get anxious just knowing he’s in the neighbourhood. He tends to be stubborn and contrary, and it was tempting to ascribe his tipping into the puddle like that to that sort of block-headedness. If we had tried to lift him out of the puddle, he would have fought us.
The night before, as I was drifting off to sleep, I had been praying that God would open my eyes to truly see, and to see truly, the people around me the way He does. Behaviour like Jack’s isn’t uncommon in our community, and I didn’t think much about it until later that evening when I began to ask myself, “Who did you see through God’s eyes today?” I hadn’t seen Jack that way, for sure: as far as I was concerned, Jack lying down in the puddle was just more of the same; my chuckling over it had had an element of exasperation and even dismissal.
Ruminating on how God might see him slowly shifted my perspective. God knows all the parts of Jack’s story that remain a mystery to me. A mystery in the particulars, but I can guess: abuse, abandonment in childhood leading to more of the same in adulthood. Lying down in a puddle in the rain was an act of profound self-abnegation – whether Jack, in the moment, was conscious of it being so or not. He felt he belonged there, and I had thought he was being ridiculous. Now I began to wonder if God would see him as a vessel of tender flesh into which had been funneled the generations of systemic and intimate abuses that have oppressed indigenous peoples; as a scapegoat bearing the sins and shame of the people out into a barren and murderous wilderness; as a lonely, courageous man struggling to remain upright beneath an intolerable load.
I watched a friend of mine lie down in a puddle. It wasn’t a joke or a stunt of some kind. He toppled under the weight.
“Come to me,” Jesus says, “all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you,” he says, meaning, let me carry most of the load, as a mature ox supports the younger one yoked to it, “and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28,29)
So I wonder, having perhaps caught a glimpse of Jack through God’s eyes, how am I to walk beside him, helping him tote his enormous burden?