A little boy comes running toward me, his eyes bright with glee. Jackson* throws his arms around my waist for a quick squeeze then climbs into the van to join my kids. His mom, Tonya, smiles shyly and we work out the details as to when I will bring him back. She timidly points out she is happy I have other kids for Jackson to play with. I give her a hug and assure her he will have a great time. Then I drive off while she waves good-bye.
I wonder what it must be like to watch your beloved child drive away with a stranger.
My little charge is a bundle of infectious joy. Before we hit the first stoplight he bursts into a jazzy rendition of Jingle Bells, followed by an endearingly endless stream of chatter and questions. I share a conspiratorial giggle with my ten-year-old at how hilarious this kid is. Then I hear Jackson say, “My mama cries when Jimmy is mean to her. I can hear her crying in the other room, ‘I’m so tired. I’m so tired.'”
My smile fades as I picture the sweet woman I just met. Crying.
Sometimes I wish I had never heard of hosting children. When I am exhausted from caring for this sweet but busy child. When I pray over an infant in placed in foster care with broken bones or a teen aging out with no family support. When I sit through a team meeting listening to case stories of children with hurts so deep and families with needs so great I wonder if we are even making a dent.
I want to stick my head in the sand. I want to go about my business as if none of this hurt exists in the world. I want to eat ice cream and play soccer with my kids and cut a check from time to time to some worthy organization. I want to smile and nod at church every Sunday and be a good Christian by following the rules of the Bible and steering clear of anything untoward or sad or hard.
That’s what I want to do.
But as I hug this little boy who was entrusted to us, and feel his little heart pound in fear after waking in our dark and quiet house, I muse that this is God’s very heartbeat. As I tuck him back in bed, I whisper a prayer of thanks that I get to love him in this moment. And I pray for his mama, who I know is fighting a hard, hard battle.
“and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” -Isaiah 58:10
God asks us to spend ourselves for the poor. Nothing can be spent without a cost. A cost to my time. A cost to my finances. A cost to my home. And a cost to my comfort. None of it is easy.
But there is also great joy.
There is laughter in my home from kids just being kids.
There is kindness shown by my church family both to us and our visitor.
There is love overflowing as little Jackson wraps his arms around my neck and whispers, “I love you, Tammie.”
It takes my breath away. It overshadows the hard with the love of Christ.
We were never meant to distance ourselves from the needs in our communities. We were not created to sit in towers far from the hard and the hurt. Because when we distance ourselves from the ones God loves we miss out on experiencing his heart.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. -2 Corinthians 1:3-4
If we are called to be salt and light then we have to actually interact, put ourselves out there, and get up close and personal with the hurt. I know its scary. I know its hard. But we have to stop being afraid and we have to stop playing it safe with our lives and our comforts.
God never, ever tells us to seek our own comfort, our own interests, our own anything. We are all called to serve. When we stay in the bondage of complacency we are missing out on the very Kingdom of God. The Bible is clear on this point.
“Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” -1 Corinthians 10:24
So often we wage this war between the life we think we’ve earned and the life of sacrifice we are called to in the Word. Our comfort and safety trump our calling. God’s priorities take a backseat under the excuse, “I am not called to do that.”
The story of the rich young man in the Bible in Mark 10 illustrates a core issue facing the wealthy. And by the world’s standards, I’d wager anyone reading this is wealthy. Here was a young man who by all accounts was living an upstanding life and following all the rules. But Jesus identified his heart issue: his life, status, possessions were idols hindering him from entering the Kingdom of heaven.
Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. -Mark 10:21-22
The young ruler grieved. And so did Jesus.
“And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” -Mark 10:23-24
Wealth has the deadly potential to blind us to our own poverty and hinder us from entering the kingdom of God. Jesus said it twice in a row. And remember, the kingdom of God is here, in our midst, as well as in Heaven. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” No wonder Jesus was sad for the young man. He was missing out on experiencing the very kingdom of God on Earth.
Our disobedience. Our unwillingness to give up our comforts and status. Our feeling of superiority. This is what makes us (the wealthy) poor. And until we realize this and fully surrender, we miss the kingdom of God.
Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” -Luke 6:20
And what did Jesus ask the rich young ruler to do to confront his own poverty? Let go of his attachment to his wealth and serve the poor.
But the man walked away discouraged. Because he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t let go of his stuff, his lifestyle, his comfort.
He was poor, too. He just didn’t see it.
They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” -Mark 10:26-27
When we serve, we aren’t saving anyone. God is doing all the saving. But self-sacrificial service is part of His plan for all of our lives. We are all called to surrender our self-indulgence and serve Him by loving others. And by doing this we get to be part of God’s story for each other’s lives.
I see the fatigue mixed with hope in Tonya’s eyes as I drop Jackson back off. I give her a hug of encouragement, and I know. This is right. She is my sister. We are in this together. And I am so grateful that God lets me be part of this.
Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? -James 2:5
*All names in the story have been changed for privacy.