Ok, I am going to be so real with you all – I fail, and I fail often. I proclaim to live out a faith that loves people, loves justice, and works toward the good of man and the glory of God, but so very often, my life does not reflect that. Especially living in New York City, injustice surrounds me, yet I fail to act.
Here are some of those times:
As I’m sitting in a coffee shop with my Bible, prayer journal, and devotional in front of me, I have a perfect view of the laundromat across the street. Out of the corner of my eye I detect a flurry of activity, so I look up to see a young boy, maybe four years old, bolting out of the laundromat with a woman (who I presumed to be his mother) close on his heels. As he attempts to run down the street, the woman grabs his arm, and he writhes passionately to escape her hold. My first thought is that this is simply a boy throwing a tantrum, but I begin to feel intense unease as I witness the woman hit him repeatedly on the head, back, and bottom when he refuses to follow her back into the laundromat, then drag him along the pavement to get him back inside. He immediately bolts back out, and the woman grabs a bottle of liquid detergent before chasing him back outside, then seizes him and pours the detergent over his head as he crumbles to the ground. At this point, the woman is able to lead the boy back inside the shop. However, a couple minutes later, I look up when the boy sprints out again, this time getting to the corner, and another woman is coming around the corner. When the boy sees her, he wraps his arms around her, crying and embracing her. The first woman is coming out of the laundromat behind him, and when she sees the second woman, she begins shouting, though I can’t hear what she is saying. The other woman is able to usher them all back into the laundromat. About a half hour later, the three of them come out again with a full cart of clean laundry, but the boy is still writhing and screaming. The first woman is struggling with pushing the cart and controlling the boy, so she begins hitting him again while the second woman looks on. Finally, the second woman pushes the cart while the first woman throws the boy over her shoulder, continuing to hit him as he screams, and they slowly make their way off down the street and out of sight. As I watched them go, my dominant feeling was relief: relief that I did not need to witness that uncomfortable situation anymore.
While riding the subway, a group of rowdy teenage boys enter my car. There is one who is definitely in charge — he is taller than the others and is shouting directions for when the group will get off again. After a couple stops, the group exits the car, and I observe with curiosity as the leader stands just on the platform, glancing back into the car right as the doors are about to close. In an instant, he reaches into the car and smacks a man full on the face, then sprints off, as the rest of his friends laugh and follow him. The man reacts and glances up with surprise and hurt on his face, and he makes eye contact with me, but I quickly avert my gaze to avoid the uncomfortable situation.
Another time on the subway, a homeless woman enters on the opposite end of my car. As she slowly shuffles from one end of the car to my end, her smell precedes her. She is not asking for money or selling water and homemade sandwiches like most homeless on the subway, but as she comes nearer to my seat, my stomach turns at her rancid smell and I glance up from my book. She seems set on slowly making her way to the bar right in front of me. When she arrives, she leans against the bar, and my senses are overwhelmed by the smell of her. I feel a prodding to engage with her and ask how I can pray for her, but instead I close my eyes, lean my head back, and breathe through my mouth. Soon, the smell has abated, and I open my eyes with relief to see her exiting the subway.
Sure, sometimes I’ve done the “right” thing — I’ve bought lunch for the homeless who approach me, I’ve prayed for and listened to the troubles of strangers, and I’ve obeyed the prodding of the Lord in uncomfortable situations. But if my life were a scale, the times that I have failed to do the right thing and even intentionally done hurtful things would far outweigh the times I have listened to the voice of God directing me softly to help and to glorify Him. In the cases above, I am still not sure what the best action was to take, but I do know that I did not act — where is my justice?
So where do I go from here? The world tells me that I just need to commit to do the right thing — make a resolution, change my mindset, set a goal of one nice thing a day and slowly increase it, and so on and so forth, with an overabundance of self-help and self-growth advice. But here’s the thing —I’m always going to fail. When I try to do the right thing out of my own strength and volition, I will always fail.
Here’s the truth: my actions are not what makes me right in God’s eyes. This is truth: God’s love for me does not change based on what I do or don’t do. He is not the man in the sky shaking His head with disappointment when I fail; He looks at me, and He adores me. He delights over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). As one of my favorite authors, Gregory Boyle pens, “God would seem to be too occupied in being unable to take His eyes off of us to spend any time raising an eyebrow in disapproval.” Anthony De Mello writes, “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.” Not only is this true for me, but it is true for all, including each character in my anecdotes above — God sees them, and He adores them.
That is my first step: returning to the source of love, the source of joy, the source of justice. Behold the One who grants all people endless love, endless joy, endless justice. I must allow Him to fill me, practice listening to His voice, and delight in His goodness. Then, out of my love for Him and the love He has given me, I let it overflow, resting in the assurance that His love is unchanging, and trusting that He will work through me for His ultimate glory and bring about true justice. For just as this truth has changed my life, it will change many lives.
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