I’ve recently discovered something. I don’t use my eyes. I don’t use my hands, either. While it took me only 19 years to realize this, I would have hoped my dormant anatomy had been pointed out just a wee bit sooner.
Roughly four months ago, I sat right here in this uncomfortable chair at the desk in my college dorm. Thoughts tip-toed away from Theology’s looming paper as daydreams, contemplations, and eventually prayer, replaced any academic focus. I soon found myself asking that reoccurring, ultra-deep question, “What’s the purpose of life?” Stopping to think for a good five seconds, I rattled off every Christianese answer that had been driven into my brain since pigtails and ruffled socks. Easy. “To glorify God, to please the Lord, to fulfill the Great Commission, to tell people about Jesus, to reflect Christ, to…” A zillion other phrases, all of which were pretty much synonymous, floated there in my noggin.
After the theoretical pop-quiz, I gave myself the A+. Quick pat on the shoulder and “yay me,” and it was back to homework, friends, sports, life. Only this time, I knew my “purpose.” But my eyes remained closed, my hands shoved in my pockets. Then along came Paul.
As a 60-year-old homeless man, Paul spent the past two decades (my entire life) sitting or sleeping or hobbling around in Salem’s Riverfront Park. Meanwhile, I attended Christian schools and played baseball and danced ballet and surfed in Hawaii (if you could call it surfing) and saw the Grand Canyon and vacationed on cruise ships – you know, the norm.
So how did these two mismatched journeys intersect? Well, the best answer I’ve got so far is God, but here’s the story:
One chilly night, I tagged along with two students who had recently befriended Paul through SALT, Corban’s Salem outreach ministry. There before me, I saw a bipolar, soft-spoken, slow-walking, scraggly but sweet, old, homeless guy. Still, I wasn’t using my eyes.
Conversation moved at a choppy pace. It didn’t help that I couldn’t understand 80 percent of what came from that quiet, gravelly voice of his. Nonetheless, it was actually an enjoyable time once we got a little more comfortable, and I shook his callused palm just before leaving. Still, I wasn’t using my hands.
It sounds ridiculous: I wasn’t using my eyes or my hands. But it’s the truth. I realized this just seconds before walking away from my new homeless buddy, when I heard him softly say something like, “Really, what we homeless people want more than anything are relationships, to be seen and cared about.” Wow.
We have since been visiting Paul anywhere from one to four nights per week, bringing him treats, talking about the Gospel, telling our testimonies, sharing laughs. He is a beloved friend, and I’m gradually learning how to use my eyes and my hands. It’s the difference between looking at the homeless and seeing the homeless, between merely moving my hands and acting with them.