It was a winter evening, dark with a chilly wind, when I ran into my friend Bruce, a man who attended our drop-ins. He was weaving along a downtown sidewalk, slow and unsteady. As soon as he saw me, he quickly stopped and put down his bags, eager for conversation. His breath smelled of alcohol, and his words were slurred and sad.
I asked him how he was doing. “Not good,” he said, shaking his head. “Not good.”
“What’s going on?” It was the first time I’d seen him this way. Normally at the drop-ins he was fairly happy and relaxed, but tonight I could see hurt and despair all over his face, his brokenness as tangible as this cold snap of wind.
“Everything’s going so bad. And they won’t let me back in the shelter,” he told me. “Got nowhere to go. Been staying there for weeks, causing no trouble, and now they don’t want me.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Bruce.”
“Who cares? I don’t need them anyway!” He kicked the ground and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He told me about an argument he’d gotten into—how heated things got, but that he wanted peace and would do anything to avoid a fight. He told me about the violence when he was a kid… how it became a part of him. “It’s not fair. I don’t want it anymore.”
He couldn’t stop talking, said he didn’t want to hurt anyone, and told me how much he loved coming to our drop-ins. Then he began to cry. “I’m afraid to come back,” he said, “afraid I’ll mess up.” I wanted so much to fix this for him: his hurt and pain, his fears, the past he was running from—but I was helpless in that moment to fix any of it. All I could do was offer him love and friendship, and while that was supposed to be enough, it sure didn’t feel like enough. As we finally said goodbye and I walked away, my heart broke: I felt like I was abandoning him, and all I could think of was Jesus, hurting and bleeding and alone on the cross. And then, David Crowder’s words: oh, how he loves us.
I am slowly learning to let go and let God. As a couple of good friends suggested recently, we need to love and then release, and sometimes we need to get out of the way so God can do his work. But I keep wondering, what does this really mean at the end of the day, to trust God fully, to love with all my heart and also let go? The only thing I know for sure is that trusting God doesn’t make it hurt any less.
At Sanctuary, I’m learning to love my friends and release them to be who they are. In return, I’m finding out they love me the same way—just as I am. What an extravagant gift and beautiful reminder of God’s love for me. I don’t know yet how to do this really well, but I have to trust that as I stand with my friends in their hurt, and as I open my hands and let go, I’m making room for God to come in. And I know that tomorrow, all I can do is invite him again.