We recently started volunteering at a local rescue mission here in town.
On the 2nd Tuesdays of the month, we lead the chapel service at the rescue mission, where my wife shares the Gospel.
We've been there, now, 3-4 times and are slowly starting to get to know the people there — their names, their stories, etc.
The first time we volunteered, we got placed in the dinner line to serve food.
It was (and is) quite a sight seeing all the people getting food and eating in the cafeteria and then seeing them hanging out in the courtyard waiting for their turn to shower.
You see all sorts of people going through the food line. Some who were well dressed, some who looked like they were on the streets longer, some who were sharp as people come, some who look really broken, some who look like the toll of being on the street has become too much — a variety of folks.
As I was serving people food, exchanging small talks, and just observing and watching them pass by me, there was a feeling that was sinking deeper and deeper into my heart.
Yes, my heart was breaking for them, but I couldn't quite put a finger on what exactly I was feeling.
It wasn't until a few days ago where I was finally able to put an English word behind what I was feeling as I was hanging out with the folks, doing whatever I was told to do by the person in charge: “Pity.”
And I hated the fact that was what I was feeling; that I felt pity for them.
I know there are many ways to describe the word and emotion of “pity.” But the first thought comes to my mind when I think of “pity” is feeling sorry for someone else.
And there's truth in that. I felt a bit sorry for the folks there at the rescue mission.
But the reason why I hate that feeling is because, for me, if I feel pity for a person, if I feel sorry for that person, it is coming from a place where I am, for a lack of a better word, “better” than that person. I know more. I am at a different level– a higher level of life, education, career, etc.
For me to feel sorry for someone, it means that I am at a better point in life than they are.
Maybe that's a bit extreme. And perhaps you'd take a completely different approach to the word “pity.”
But, that's how I feel. And if that's how I feel, my actions and interactions with folks may come from the source of feeling pitiful for them. Which is not what I want. At all.
Besides, those men and women? They don't need my pity. Not at all.
I want to come from a place of compassion; a place of grace and love; a place of support.
I want to truly be their friend, as much as I possibly can. But, I don't think I can do that with the wall of pity shielding me from them. And there really shouldn't be a “me” and “them.” But an “us.”
I am their brother in Christ. And they are my brothers and sisters. And friends.
I am not loved any more by God than they are loved.
As someone once said or wrote, “the ground is level at the foot of the cross.”
I think a problem that some Christians and churches run into is that they are doing homeless folks and organizations a “favor” by “serving” (volunteering?) them. Maybe that comes from a feeling obligation or, perhaps, pity. Maybe that's why some folks will donate what they were originally going to throw away to the homeless, because they might need it. It being trash.
They are not an obligation. They do not need a favor from any of us. Nor do they need our pity.
But they are our friends. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are the very ones Christ would be “caught” hanging out with. He'd hang out with them more than you or me, I presume. They are the ones who Christ said, Happy are they… for the Kingdom of God is theirs.
I should not volunteer because I feel obligated to, or feel like I'm doing someone a favor, or to check off a item on my “doing good” list and certainly not just out of pity but I (should) serve because I feel compelled by God's love to share the very grace and love God has graciously shown me; because I am called to serve the people God loves, not just those I love; because Christ modeled a servant leadership.