Those Whose Lives Are Lent

Last week, I broke my own rule…

As a matter of principle, I avoid offering motel vouchers to our friends in the Compassion Ministry.  It simply is not a financially sustainable service to provide. We offer a wide variety of resources -- meals, a food bank, safety, hospitality, mentorship, medical care -- but not motel vouchers.  

Then, last Wednesday, we found ourselves in the midst of winter’s grand finale, the bomb cyclone.  Within hours of the blizzard’s beginning, I received phone calls from two coworkers, each with a different friend of ours who was on the streets.  Both of our friends are older women with severe mental illness. Both had been caught in the rain, then snow. One had already been to the hospital for hypothermia.  Both had no shelter. What did I do? I broke my own rule. Both spent the night in a motel.

I learn so much about Lent from my friends going through homelessness.  This education is uncomfortable, though. I wish the lessons they teach did not have to be learned and their experiences did not have to be the curriculum.  A snowstorm that puts lives at risk demonstrates vulnerability. I learn the reality of despair and the concreteness of hopelessness. I witness cycles of sin.  Worst of all, I participate in a society which so often oppresses the vulnerable, meets poverty with nonchalance, and further excludes those already marginalized.  In listening to my reluctant teachers, I hear the content of Lent.

To be honest, I often question whether this particular season is needed in the lives of our friends on the streets.  What is the use of a period of time which makes us reflect on our depravity and hopelessness when their lives are already defined by these things?  Do wet clothes, freezing temperatures, and no shelter during blizzards not constitute enough of a lenten practice on their own? I sometimes wish we could break our liturgical rules and jump straight to redemption -- just for their sake.

Yet that is not how life works.  We still await the ultimate redemption that will come in the fulfillment of all things.  In the meantime, let us not miss the lessons to be learned from proximity to the poor. Let us have ears to hear and eyes to see the many ways in which our friends experiencing homelessness can remind us of our own poverty, our own sin, our own despair.  Let these lenten lessons break our societal rules that say “we” are so different from “them.” Then, let us all join together in crying out to our Savior to break the rules of sin and bring restoration.

Mike Sandgren in the Director of Compassion Ministry at Wellspring Church in Englewood, CO.  In this role, he has the opportunity to live and work amongst those experiencing poverty and homelessness in the Denver Metro area.  It is his joy to see dignity and flourishing replace poverty.

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