Tears at the gate

What do you do when a man breaks down in tears on your doorstep? A man who also appears to be angry, shaking his fist at God… or the gods… or the bad situation that brought him to this door to begin with. What do you do when you have none of the resources that he thinks he wants or needs?

“Have you tried the church two blocks down? They sometimes have resources to help.”

At this moment, all the pastors are out of the building, as are all of the maintenance guys who tend to double as “security.” And in the city, safety is often the guiding rule.

A man crying (or seeming to, it is hard to tell on the little video monitor that looks out on the door) breaks through the callous that easily develops as the receptionist or secretary — a callous that comes because most folks who land on the doorstep seeking help are rude and demanding, many changing their story several times in the midst of conversation.

Allyn and I have had a lot of discussions about relief vs. recovery — about how the way to treat systemic problems is not through the bandaids that relief provides, but that recovery work is needed. It is hard to know what that does or should look like. It is hard to fix something that seems beyond repair. It is hard to acknowledge that perhaps I have much to learn from the man crying on the doorstep and that I am in as much need of repair as the system in which he lives.

“Peace be with you” (or ya’ll or yinz or you guys), but on days like today, it will have to come from a place higher than me.

(photo credit)



Filed under ministry, reflection

5 responses to “Tears at the gate

  1. Megan G

    Have you read the book When Helping Hurts? I need to…your post reminded me of it.

  2. I may have to check that book out as well. In Memphis, I covered a secretary position for one week at a very large church. I was the one on the other side of the little video camera manning the door buzzer. It was eye-opening. I had no idea how many visits they fielded in one week from rude, belligerent strangers demanding help. I understand the callous now. I have much to learn about the cure.

  3. Lynn Pate

    I completely understand your dilemma. We want to help, but we don’t want to be hurt or have anyone take advantage of us. Being a member of a “city” church has reminded me that I do need to be careful, and that I am very vulnerable.

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