Last summer I took a homeless man into my home for an overnight stay. His stench followed him up the stairs where he steamed up my bathroom with a hot shower– using my bath soap, wash cloth and towel.
I cut his hair and trimmed his beard and ears. I washed his clothes, twice, and let him sleep on my couch. I made him scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.
He thanked me nonstop. He never asked for anything. I could see the reprieve from heat, hunger and the hard street floor lifting his soul above despair and letting him breathe easy for a while. I could see him becoming human again.
He packed his few belongings and I drove him back into town and said good-bye.
Then I made a phone call and found out he’d made the rounds. His name was well-known at shelters and agencies as someone who could better himself if he really wanted to. I had listened closely to his story, and understood the predicament he was in. I saw both sides and chose to take neither; in that moment, it was simply about relief.
I’ve known the need for momentary relief all too well. I’ve known what it’s like to wonder how we’ll get groceries, to coast down the hill in hopes of making it to the gas pump in time, and then wonder how I’ll pay for gas. To be desperate for a haircut with no means to get one. To need someone to act on Monday as if they mean what they profess on Sunday.
Like my homeless visitor, I too found out what spells “relief.” It was cash stashed in a blank card. A gift card for gas or groceries. An invitation to dinner for all six of us. Concert tickets. A gift certificate for dinner out. Some token of genuine compassion that said, "You need to come up for air."
Relief to our family came often from those who don’t read God’s law on pages of scripture but in the words inscribed on every human heart: do unto others…. It came from people who placed immediate need and concern for fellow man above principles and ideals. From people who offered relief to a hurting soul because it is the right thing to do.
Do I regret carrying the burden of a homeless man for a day? Even if it did nothing to change his situation long term? No more than I regret someone lightening my load for a while. I will never forget those people and what they did for my family, and I don’t expect my homeless friend will soon forget what my family did for him.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home.” Matthew 25:35
How have you experienced the blessing of giving or receiving lately?