I’m sitting here at in my kitchen with a very hot cup of chai. A few large sprigs from a blossoming tree outside the city are gracing my kitchen table. My boy is due to be born in a week, so I’m bouncing away on the exercise ball as I type, hoping for signs of labor. The house is quiet this morning, even more so now that we are living on the sixth and top floor of an apartment building. The hustle of the square is now a few blocks away, and I can sit like a turtle in the sun on my back balcony.
My mind is busy these days, thinking of the words of Jesus and what it means to open my home in accordance to His teaching. I have to tell you it’s not my comfort zone some days. We have an open door policy for the ones that are close to us here and there are some days I open the door and hope people don’t stay because I have an agenda for the day. Most times however, I am energized by the ins and outs because opening my home becomes the most transformative spiritual discipline both for me and the ones I welcome.
Why is this?
We walked into our friend’s home this week and were met with delightful music, laughter, and the smells of 18 sheep heads that had been cooked and dissected. All the jaws, eye sockets, tongues, and brain had been carefully arranged on platters, and the whole family pitched in to spread the “sofre” (tablecloth) on the carpet, and grace it with platter after platter of rice, fermented vegetables, sour oranges, and the meats. The Mother of the house sat cross legged in front of a huge pot of meat broth and dipped bowls of fragrant soup for everyone. We pulled apart her homemade flatbread, dipping it into the soup. The house was warm, our hearts were full, and my body felt calm and relaxed as they brought out the blankets after the food and we all covered up and chatted. I almost fell asleep I was so full and comfortable.
Last night Mama Z called me and said, “I’m making soup, can you come?” We all know to drop everything and run when Mama Z makes Ash Reshti, the most famous Iranian soup. I finished my appointment and arrived a little late to a whole group of happy people playing UNO. A huge pot of “Ash” was ready on the table, with the fragrant toppings of brined mint, tahini, and carmelized onions. The night was cold, but we all gathered tight around the small coffee table with our big steaming bowls and it felt like all was right with the world.
When the news is bad and hearts are broken, there is so much comfort in a simple bowl of hot soup, shared with friends around the same table. God designed us this way, to delight in flavors and company, to play with spices and make each other laugh. It is the lack of these very simple pleasures that have estranged us from each other and make us lonesome.
My friend was sick this week and crashed in my spare bedroom. She always asks for the same soup, rich with coconut milk and spices. It was not a great day to make a complicated soup, but it ended up being perfect because two more unexpected hands showed up to chop and saute and another little girl showed up who wanted to stay because her Mom was hospitalized and a man from church popped in to talk to Eric. Does it grind against my agenda-driven soul to change my plans every five minutes? Definitely. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
I believe that our increase in knowledge regarding the impact of trauma on survivors has helped some and handicapped others. Sitting across from a professional has been very healing for some, while others leave the office and go back to spending the majority of their lives alone and isolated from healthy community. We sometimes shrug off the responsibility to engage in the ones that are struggling because we don’t have the education or the experience and we think they need something we can’t give them, while maybe what we have to give is what they need the most.
Through our own personal experience or the lens of other’s stories, many of us have been crushed with the sorrow in the world. There are all kinds of pressures that then drive us to engage with individuals who have been traumatized. Some of these pressures are driven from our own experiences, and cause us to fight tenaciously because of our hatred of injustice personally. Other times we love the label it gives us when people know us as “advocate” or “counselor.” Sometimes our motives are pure, and we just want to help but end up hurting ourselves and others.
I’ve been listening very closely to the women who have been trafficked and abused. I’ve learned to listen more closely to what they are feeling then to categorize them because of some literature I thought sounded smart. I hear a very common thread.
“I have no one.”
“When you are alone, anything can happen.”
I think we need to define what it means to be alone. Most of us have large family trees and know aunts, uncles, and cousins. We celebrate birthdays with little brothers and anniversaries with older siblings. I have six beautiful sisters and three brothers and spent my childhood as number seven of ten, with a secure place of family identity. We ate hot meals together around the table three times a day. We all knew our spot on the bench. My Dad helped us memorize chapters of scripture after meals and my Mom put us to bed clean and happy every night. I had no idea when I fell asleep with the warm spring air and the spring peepers chirping through the window that I was significantly privileged.
On the contrary, many of my friends have been orphaned young. They have seen the worst atrocities of rape and evil and war. They have braved it all and are alive physically and crushed in their spirits. Many have no one to call family, although they may have a social worker, counselor, and psychologist. Others have family, but live in chronic dysfunction.
It is the misunderstanding of this dreadful lonesomeness that drives us to send survivors for an hour of help per week expecting holistic healing to occur. God did not design us to heal that way. He actually created us to be very close to each other; laughing, cooking, weeping, and living in harmony. Jesus, knowing all of this and seeing straight into the broken hearts of the ones around Him said, “Anyone who does the will of my Father is my Mother and Brother.”
“Don’t just invite your family to the holidays, invite the lame, poor, and outcasts.”
And since He knew so many of His created would suffer homelessness and suffering, He said, “Don’t worry, I’m going to prepare a place for you.”
Jesus has this beautiful plan for His true disciples to engage in all the suffering and pain inflicted by the devil’s tactics. Living as a disciple looks a lot like how He walked when He was with us: touching, inviting, healing, living among sinners. We have created structures that pull us away from all of that and have not only isolated survivors, but isolated us.
No one wants to feel like a perpetual “refugee,” “survivor” or “participant of the program.” All of us crave to be someone’s sister, mother, or friend. No one wants to only be the fruit of our valiant “missionary” endeavors, they want to be our family. And if we think we’re the “missionary” and they are our “fruit” or the participant of our agenda we not only hurt them, but hurt ourselves in the process. Everyone becomes isolated on a labeled platform of performance.
No one feels at home.
When we don’t offer this close up, rubbing shoulders gospel we aren’t exemplifying Jesus. And when we don’t follow Jesus, we have little hope to see change in the lives of those who are broken.
Let them in, and see how you will be changed. Let them in, and see how suddenly simple healing can be. Let them in, and sit with Jesus over the crushing sorrows and the peels of contagious laughter. Let them into the true gospel, and create a beautiful community everywhere you go.
It’s just as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The person who is in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”
We can think we know everything about what people need, and miss the most simple and important needs they have. We can feel great about ourselves and raise thousands for poverty stricken people, and bless no one but ourselves. We can talk about community and team functions all day every day, and forget to lay down our lives for our friends. Or we can shed the labels and pressures and ask Jesus what it truly means to follow Him into the day to day lives of those He brings us. We can open our doors and widen our hearts.
We can exercise the genuine love that builds a home where suffering has had the final word.
“Compassion is not bending towards the underprivileged from the privileged position; It isn’t reaching out from on high to those that are unfortunate below; it is not a gesture of sympathy or pity for those who fail to make it on the upward pull. On the contrary, compassion means going directly to those places where suffering is most acute, and building a home there.”
Shed the labels, follow Jesus. Repent of the idolatry of man-made structures, and sink into a rhythm of learning His ways. Invite the broken in close enough to wear family titles, not out of some valiant ministry effort but because He first loved us.
And as you shed the labels and titles, you’ll find family and community everywhere you go.