What’s keeping you down?
I came across the following video today and was really convicted by its humanity. While I can empathize with their difficulties, I am generally very skeptical of those individuals begging for money on the side of the road. Perhaps this is due to this exposé I saw years ago on 20/20 or some similar program which showed a “homeless” man who made a very good living of begging. Every morning, he would wake up in his nice, two-story house, dirty himself up, then kiss the wife & kids good-bye on his way to “work” as a man with a sign on the side of the road. Or maybe it is the effect of my intimate understanding of addiction and alcoholism (not that all homeless folks qualify as such) and not wanting to “waste” money on someone who is just going to drink it away. I will acknowledge the fact that I am very cynical about homelessness in general. It is one place where I struggle between wanting to be of maximum service to my fellow man and not wanting to be taken advantage of. Sadly, I have not yet achieved spiritual perfection.
Still, I like a good humanitarian piece and in the interest of overcoming this cynicism, I clicked play. Okay, yeah, typical homeless dude frustrated about his lot in life. When he begins repeating himself about halfway through, I’m ready to turn it off. “Yes, I get it. These are real people and they have real struggles. I don’t need to sit and listen to this dude bitch & moan about how hard it is.” But then something amazing happens at the 2:10 mark and it’s like an arrow through the heart, bringing me right back to my own struggles in early recovery and revealing to me that I have stepped further away from where I need to be than I thought.
Right there, it all falls away. All the pretense. All the false pride. The resentment, the anger, everything. Suddenly, his defenses are down and this man is revealed as a lost little boy wondering, “How in the hell did I get here?” His ego slips away and he is able to mourn for that scared little boy, then fights to come back, apologizing for his emotions… apologizing for being the exact same thing he is trying to get us to see him as – human. In adopting this attitude of, “Yeah, it’s hard, but I can handle it. I’m tough,” he creates distance. He doesn’t want to appear weak, even as he has found himself utterly humiliated. “I don’t need you. Yeah, I’d like some change, but hey, I’ll get by just fine without you.” But in that moment where the façade falls away revealing the true, hurting soul within, we are able to connect with him at a very basic level and grieve alongside him over this once happy little boy who has found himself utterly lost. It is there that God lives, where that deep desire to alleviate each others’ pain and suffering is overwhelming.
But then here comes ego, edging God out again, telling us we should feel shame for letting others see our weaknesses, pushing away anyone who could really help, because, “What would they think if they saw me this way?” How long do we let ourselves flounder about, learning things the hard way because we are too ashamed to ask for help? We will fight against those who could save us because our pride won’t let us admit we don’t know all the answers. Every single time I have sincerely reached out for help with no pride and no reservations, my life has gotten much easier because I no longer have to carry the full weight on my own. So many times, when I have torn down my walls and let others see me struggling, someone will thank me for not being perfect because that means they don’t have to be, either. Whenever I stop having all the answers, I finally start getting the answers I need. Every. Single. Time. And still, as soon as the mini-crisis is over, those walls come right back up, ego takes over and I push you right back out to arm’s length.
Now, I am not attempting to compare my life to the man in this video. I don’t know his story and I don’t presume to judge him nor blame him for his circumstance. I do thank him, though, for offering us that little glimpse of God inside him and for convicting me to keep putting ego aside so that people may see God in me, too.