Previous: Part 1 and Part 2. In short, Marnell unexpectedly worked until 10pm on a night we were planning to host a homeless friend (I call her Catherine), a recovering friend (called Anne) and a cousin (Joshua). Our homeless friend explained to the rest of us why the Bible and “religion” were not reliable.
Then, both Joshua and Anne explained why they claim the label of “Christian,” something I had hoped they would share.
Why I Am a Christian
I wish like crazy we would have a recording of this whole conversation. But I think it is sacred in my mind because we don’t. I share a summary of what they said to the best of my memory.
Joshua explained that he had wrestled with many doubts himself, but felt that he was coming to the other side of that. He said he was a Christian because of a relationship with God, not because of “religion.” He spoke of the journey of life as a walk through the desert, where we were often exhausted and parched. Yet, at our worst moments, we encounter an oasis of God’s tangible presence that compels us to continue on. He said he appreciated the Bible as great literature and beautiful poetry, but he mostly appreciated it because he read it as a love letter from God.
Anne spoke next, citing that she too had many doubts and had visited many different churches Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, many Christian groups. She had studied the Bible and answered Catherine’s concerns about Scriptural authenticity with confidence. But she too claimed Christ because of a relationship, rather than a “religion.”
Joshua said he had a deep sympathy for anyone honestly searching for truth who felt that they had not found it yet.
“I’ve been searching for that all my life,” Catherine said.
I spoke too, although I felt that the compassionate and grace-filled delivery of the young people was probably more notable than anything I could offer. I said I had questions too, about why Christians don’t get along, things like that. But, I said, I have never encountered anyone or anything in life or literature that answers the questions as well as the person of Jesus Christ’s justice and love on the cross.
That’s how the meal ended. Catherine needed to go, and Joshua offered her a lift to the homeless shelter so she wouldn’t have to walk.
I dropped Anne off at a friend’s house where she was staying and went to get the Walmart pickup order. Anina and I called Marnell and talked to him while we waited on the order. He was still at work, untangling inventory snags.
I made it through the night and put Anina to bed. But she fussed and cried and I went back into her room. Finally, Marnell text to say he would be home around 10.
“She might still be up at this rate,” I said. I managed to stay patient with her, knowing she was missing her dad, but the end of my rope dangled near.
Just before Marnell got home, Anina fell asleep and I fell apart. I told Marnell I just needed a little space. I ate some food, mumbled a few words to Marnell and went to bed.
A Hospitality Hangover?
In the morning I woke up feeling like something had run over me. My throat hurt, and I felt depressed. I apologized to Marnell for being such a grouch the night before, but I still felt like one. I felt physically terrible.
Anina woke up early, of course, since she had gone to bed late. Somehow it always seems to work that way. I laid on the couch, trying to convince her to play somewhere other than on top of me. At least it was raining outside, so I didn’t have to feel too bad for skipping our walk. I thought of all the things that were wrong with the world, with organizations, with people, and with myself. My gloom piled on me like layers of blankets.
Finally I put Anina in bed for her nap. With the benefit of rest and relaxation, I made the very good decision to discuss my feelings in prayer. “Where?” I asked God. “Where are you in this muddle?”
I was at your table last night.
And then I remembered the verse–Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
I suddenly recalled what an amazing privilege it had been to be at the dinner table the night before. And Jesus in the midst of us, listening to two 21-year-olds share the Gospel with a woman more than twice their age who was skeptical of religion but had been searching for truth her entire life.
I think it was one of the most beautiful events I have ever been part of, hearing the Gospel shared simply, compassionately, by the young to the old. It was amazing. It was stunning. I had no illusions about the perfection of the speakers or of myself. Instead, what I heard was humility and love. I saw the Gospel transcend weakness, hurts, grief, and the bad choices of ourselves and others.
My physical exhaustion transformed into hope and gratitude.
The Tent Lady
A few weeks later at the soup kitchen, I asked about Jane, the woman who lived in the tent behind the car wash. Had anyone heard about her? No one seemed to know the name, which I thought was odd.
“How old was she?” a woman asked. She said a woman had died of hypothermia during the cold snap, trying to shelter under the bridge where Anina and I walk sometimes. But they said that woman was in her 30s, and I was pretty sure Jane was older.
“That woman over there,” someone added, “has gloves on because of frostbite.” They said her fingers were turning black and someone at the soup kitchen was trying to help her set up medical appointments since the fingers would likely need to be amputated.
The morning after the soup kitchen night, exhaustion crippled me again. But I went back to the car wash, hoping they were open, and hoping to find out if a lady still lived there in a tent. They weren’t open, but I found a woman returning to the tent. “Do you know when the car wash opens?” I asked. No answer. “Are you Jane?” No answer. She didn’t even turn around, so I never saw her face, just the cardboard box and the purse carefully stowed in the tent. Maybe some people don’t want to be found.
What is hospitality?
I’ve been mulling over the exhaustion I experience after serving people, or just after caring for a high-octane toddler. Is that what hospitality is? Is that what service is? Is that what raising a child is? Giving until your throat hurts and your back aches? Facing deep weariness, but then remembering that you are greatly privileged to be part of something splendid and un-reproducible? Knowing you may never know the far-reaching effects of a conversation, but knowing that it was inexplicably beautiful?
I don’t know how self-care fits into this, or at what point we need to honor our exhaustion to protect our health. But it seems to me that exhaustion may just go hand in hand with service, like that parched walk in the desert. And maybe that’s okay, especially if we press on in faith toward the next oasis.