5 Minutes of My Day: Barriers of the Heart
Eric and I are sitting in the car at the airport. We’re in the middle of our trip-leading season, mid June. It’s hot, humid and the country is full-to-the-brim with people, missionaries, relatives visiting, tourists and adventurers alike. The airport is a mess, people walking on top of one another it’s so packed. We are waiting at the airport for our next team to arrive. Sitting in the car, blasting the AC for a few precious minutes to relieve the heat.
We sit facing the road, there’s a fence that runs the border of the airport and a little, thin boy on the other side, banging a cup again the rails. He is yelling so loud, “Blan! Hungry Hungry” his attempt to reach me in my first language. My heart is harder than I expected, I know the tangled web of negative aspects that can come from giving him things, and today my heart is tired. This past week was especially hard, full of confusing situations where I had to work hard to find the appropriate response and action to take. I know the chance that this could be an act, and my heart is at the ready with little defenses after being taken advantage of a few times here at the airport lately, by a guy named William. I lean out of the car, look in his direction and casually tell him I have no money to give him and go back to my conversation. I won’t be fooled..
I cannot see his face, he’s blurred by the fence, but I hear his voice, rising in pitch and volume.
“I don’t want money, I need food. Please, please!” He begs in Creole.
The intensity and panic is palpable in his demeanor, I take note and quickly tell Eric I’ll be back. As I approach him and get a good look at him for the first time, I notice lines of many tears etched down his cheeks. He can’t be more than 10 and his eyes are lost, he’s wailing, hitting the cup against the fence and running a whole sleuth of words together unintelligibly. “What’s wrong sweetie?” I ask him. He looks directly into my eyes as I do my best to calm him down. I begin asking him questions about his life. He is so tired, so worn. I wipe his tears through the rungs of the fence. He slows his breathing enough to speak. Through raspy breaths he explains that his mother died in the earthquake and he doesn’t know his father. He was living with a friend, but they had to move and he’s been on the street for over a week. He hadn’t had anything to eat in a few days. As the walls around my heart shamefully crumble, I scold myself for my apathy, my numbness. How could I turn my heart away from him? How could I not feel his pain sooner?
I had just purchased snacks for our team 30 minutes earlier, and although it wasn’t much, it was enough for him. I fill his hands up with crackers, protein bars and some cookies and a try to buy some bags of water from a vendor across the road. The water vendor comes over, looks into the boys eyes and hands back my money, handing the boy 4 ice cold bags of water. He just nods at me and goes back to his spot. I wonder how much he gave up just then for this young man and yet, he didn’t hesitate to give. Haitians are an incredible people.
He just stands in front of me, frozen. He avoids my gaze. I gently try to pull him out of his shell, but he’s silent. I’m not sure why, whether it be the relief that he’ll have something to eat or the emotional tidal wave he just went through. Either way, I’m not sure if my words penetrate into his heart and mind. I don’t know if he even heard me say I’m sorry. I will never know if he heard me say I hope he finds someone to help him. I don’t know if he found shelter, food or water. But he just looks up into my eyes, whispers “Mesi” and walks away.
I walk back to the car, hands stained red with guilt and shame. Eric and I just sit in silence. What do you say? How do you respond?
What is wrong with me? How is this even possible? How could someone be in such need and I am out-of-touch and unaware?
My heart breaks into a thousand pieces as I try to process all that just happened.
I’m a fool.
I’m not sure exactly what happened that day at the airport. I don’t know how much I can blame upon myself and the precautions my heart warns me of everyday, but I do know a few things that I learned, sitting in that car:
Ministry is hard. Being wise and capable of discerning the truth in moments like these can be incredibly difficult to navigate. Any other young boy, any other day could have been just looking to make extra money. Me giving him said money could encourage him to stay on the streets. Remember Ricky? It could encourage his friends to drop out of school and work the streets with him. How can you always know what is right and wrong? Who is in real need of help and who isn’t?
This isn’t just Haiti, this is the whole world over. This isn’t just missions, this is every person living their daily life. I know you’ve been in my place before – unsure of the correct thing to do. I see it on my news feed (“there’s a man near the main street intersection asking for gas money, just saw him yesterday doing the same thing, don’t help him!”) This is the guy at Wal-mart that cruises the parking lot asking for gas money every Saturday, when everyone knows he uses it to buy beer.
And you give money, then you feel guilty, that you’ve somehow enabled what could be a downward spiral, instead of reaching down and pulling someone out of the trouble their in.
How can you go through daily life and not throw up walls around your heart?
But then again, how can we afford to? Isn’t the risk just too high?
And as I sat in the car, overwhelmed at the situation that just unfolded, this one singular truth was all I could grasp:
Christ didn’t have walls.
He came to this earth as a man. A man who experienced all we have and will. A man who dealt with incredible heartache and walked through tricky situations. (interrupting a stoning sound easy?) But He never closed off parts of His heart. He never threw up walls around the deepest parts of Himself so others couldn’t hurt Him. On the contrary, He loved past the normal barriers of a human. He pushed the envelope of tradition, right and wrong, love and servant-hood, justice and mercy. He was a risk-taker when it came to love. He wept over the loss of a friend, He didn’t ignore complex situations, He stepped into the middle and helped. He taught those whom He met about the Truth. He was radical in His forgiveness and compassion. He never once said, “No, this is too hard, I can’t keep going through this. They’re taking advantage of me!” He didn’t give up even when that meant dying a brutal death on a cross for those who hated Him, who took advantage of Him, who potentially never once loved Him back. – All because of His love for us, to save us.
And yet, here I am flaws and all, hardened by the simplest of actions.
I pray that my walls and defenses will always remain in a state of rubble, never to be rebuilt.
No matter what this world tells us, you cannot love too much. You cannot serve too much. Life is indeed a maze of choices that will ultimately lead to the person you become. What kind of person will you become? I want to be the person who trusts Christ to bring discernment where I need it. That ultimately, when I start building those barriers in my heart, Christ will crush them with His grace.
I pray that I will trust His guiding voice in situations that I find complex or confusing. When ministry is hard, confusing, overwhelming and I feel lost at the right decision, I will pause and hear His voice. Because I know sometimes, true love is doing the hard thing. A lot of the time, truly loving someone having the strength to not enable them.
But that wasn’t the case here, with this 5 minute interaction.
I pray that every time I am called, I will love and serve past the barriers of who I am. That I can give of my whole heart to those who will take it, even if I risk it being trampled and abused. That I will set aside my selfish anger and take up a righteous anger instead. That my heart will focus on justice and mercy than revenge and wrath.
Because isn’t the Gospel about a radical, undeserved love? Isn’t it about forgiveness and sacrifice and mercy? Isn’t this very life about being Christ to those around us? And isn’t Christ about love?
As I sit here, with tears streaming down my face, I know I never want to be in that place again, ashamed of the blinders I was wearing on my heart on that hot day in June. Growing more apathetic and distant from the needs of those around me than I realized, being hardened by the world. Thinking that I was being smart by allowing those blinders to remain, a coping mechanism to get through the almost constant barrage of needs that I was being met with everyday and focus on the needs of my staff, teams, pastors and husband. But I wasn’t. I was a coward. I was afraid of the pain. I was afraid of the abuse my heart might suffer.
But no longer.
Father, no longer will I fall for the lies of self-perseverance. No more believing that a fully-healed heart is the best for me. Wouldn’t You rather me be broken for Your names sake than feeling whole and turning my back on the core of who You are? When I begin to put up those barriers, little moment by moment, take them down. Not in sweet whispers but in loud, uncomfortable conviction can You remind me? From this moment onward, my heart is Yours to use. Use it for Your purposes and I trust You to hold it in Your hands. You are the ultimate Healer and Giver of life. In that I rest. I rest in the knowledge that You are divine, You are my protector and the only true lover. May I mirror Your unrelenting love each day. Amen.
5 Minutes of My Day is a series of the more intimate moments in our ministry. Launching off of something Eric said to me one day: “When you are overwhelmed or stressed and Satan is on you, focus on the little things. The small moments that make you remember why you live this life. Why you love this ministry.” So here it is, the good the bad and the ugly. Snapshots of 5ish minutes of my day.
Written June 2012, finally posted January 2015.