She lay quietly on the bed. A slip of a woman. Nothing but skin, bones and track marks up and down her arms from IV drug use. Eyes downcast, barely able to lift her heavy head from sagging shoulders, she wept softly as she described the pain.
Her arms were swollen and throbbing as infection settled into her injection sites. Her chest still ached from the broken ribs left last week by her abusive boyfriend. She claimed she hadn’t done meth in two days, but her slurred speech and unkempt hair suggested otherwise.
She’d traveled so far into a mine of bad choices, the canary had been silenced. And her desperation was palpable.
I gently asked if she wants help for her addiction. When she glanced up, I wondered how can eyes be so vacant and yearning all at once.
She looked away and sighed in defeat. She stammered that she could beat her addiction on her own. And besides, she has no one.
That much I agreed with. I saw the antsy, pacing man who brought her to the Emergency Department then fled. Her boyfriend? A friend? A stranger? We didn’t know. Either way, he took off to secure his next high and had no interest in how she fared.
I’ve met many iterations of this woman. Alone. Lost. Giving up on life. Letting herself both abuse and be abused.
I know her as the mom whose children are left unsupervised while she searches for her next hit.
I know her as the woman who is so depressed that she sleeps all day and forgets to feed the kids.
I know her as the teenage mother who just can’t leave her abusive boyfriend and the children are collateral damage.
I know her as the inmate with baggage so weighty, it appears she will never be able to pull herself together.
I know her as the ungrateful woman who hurls expletives at me in the ER while her children look on.
And I know how hard she can be to love.
If I were being completely honest, I’d admit that I’d rather love her children. Kids are cute. They tug at my heart strings. I am willing to forgive tantrums, have my home upended, loose sleep and have my heart broken for the sake of vulnerable children.
But the moms? Sometimes they are hardened. Harsher. Harder to forgive.
Its only natural to develop animosity or even apathy towards anyone who repeatedly makes bad choices and puts herself in harms way. Let alone her children. But as I hugged my paper thin patient and felt her hot tears splash on my scrubs, I remembered a fundamental truth:
She is worthy of love.
In the emergency department, I see women at rock bottom. The come to me high, drunk, combative, broken and hopeless. And in my nonprofit work I see some women skate dangerously close to edge of self destruction.
It’s hard not to judge.
But in these moments of softness, when I come whisper close to someone whose self worth has been all but snuffed out, the compassion comes more readily. Because I know she is vulnerable in every sense of the word. And she didn’t get here in a vacuum.
I wonder what her childhood was like. How much trauma did she endure? Did anyone care for, defend or protect her? Does anyone now? Could it be that the hardness I see was forged in years of hard? Are we too quick to dismiss her as a hopeless case?
God holds us to the highest standard of love. He doesn’t give us a pass or instruct us to love only those who are easy. In fact, he calls us to perfection in this area. So we have to fight against our human response to offer only a finite amount of grace to someone who needs the lion’s share.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:46-48
In most ministries geared towards orphan prevention and foster care, necessary attention is aimed at the children. We see their sweet, innocent faces and mobilize to protect and defend them. As we should.
But may we remember this woman. This is our social widow. And God calls us to visit her in her distress. Which means now. At her lowest point. Not when she has her act together.
She is broken and hurting and in need of forgiveness seventy times seven times over. But Jesus came for her, too. And He calls us to high and holy standards of patience, kindness and forgiveness towards sinners, not just saints.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Colossians 3:12-13
May I be slow to judge, and quick to be kind and endlessly patient with the widow. Even the widow that is hard to love. She needs us to love her children, yes. But she also needs us to love her.