Kids are funny, and my nephew Timmy is one of the cleverest. I find that when he doesn't want to do something, he can usually come up with a pretty good reason that he can't. Once, another little boy wanted Timmy to play with a worm. Clay held up the worm and Timmy told him, regretfully, "oh, I can't. I'm not allowed to touch things that don't have faces."
Things that don't have faces.
As an aside, it is cold. This morning when I got in my car, it was -13. Degrees. Fahrenheit. Given my personality it may not shock you to learn that I rarely check the weather. As such, I often leave the house wearing inappropriate footwear, and sometimes I walk out my back door in the morning and step into a winter wonderland when I didn't even know it was supposed to snow. But on Sunday at the food bank I had so many people alert me to the weather that this time, I knew it was coming. We prayed a lot this Sunday about the impending temperature drop. We prayed for jobs to come through so that they could afford a motel room for a couple of days, things like that. A mere 48 hours later I walked out of the gym and the sweat in my hair froze. It was in that frigid moment that I started to really worry about those who wouldn't have a place to sleep when it was in the negative teens.
I have to admit that I haven't worried much about this in the past. It's never bothered me to the extent that it did yesterday, anyway. And I felt like such a jerk because it was the first day I worried about it, but it was far from the first time people had been homeless in subzero temperatures. I felt selfish and ignorant and hypocritical. But maybe it isn't that I was a soulless human being before yesterday (fingers crossed). Maybe it's just that this time when it struck me that people would be without homes in this disgusting cold, it didn't just look like a special on the evening news; it looked like people I hugged and laughed with not two days ago. It's not that I've never had compassion for people sleeping on the street, it's just that now, homelessness has faces.
It's sometimes hard to really understand things that are beyond the realm of our experience, because those things don't yet have faces for us. It's not that I don't care or don't see it before, it's just a different, more wholehearted kind of care and sight after. Giving pain a face makes it real-er. And when something gets real for us, I don't think we need to be embarrassed because we didn't get it before. It doesn't mean we're heartless, just so very limited.
I didn't have much empathy for addiction until it had names and stories, until they were in my family, until I saw my own face in theirs. Maybe divorce is just a statistic until your best friend gets one. If you come back from Africa and suddenly can't talk about anything but, it doesn't mean you're going through an "Africa phase" or that your concern is a fad. It's that now, Africa has faces. Maybe you never felt the need to speak out against derogatory slurs until homosexuality was a friend you dearly loved and mentally handicapped was the sweet kid holding your hand tightly at Young Life camp. Suicide didn't hurt until it was someone I'd gotten accustomed to seeing all the time. When I heard about Penn State I had to close my office door and cry for a longer time than I even expected, because child abuse has faces. I didn't often think about cancer until it bulldozed my family, and now even hearing the word hurts. And I didn't pray much about people sleeping on the streets until sleeping on the streets had faces.
My stomach was in knots as I tried to pray over every name I could think of. But through the knots there was a whisper of truth and with it, a sigh of relief: it didn't matter if I knew their names because Jesus knows their faces. God knows each of our faces. We are all faces, names, stories, children, and the knots that I feel over the names I know is nothing compared to the love, compassion, and pain that Jesus feels for us and with us. And while I can't begin to wrap my mind around bad things, while I feel completely blindsided in the face of tragedy, at the end of the day I believe that God is big, bigger than any of it. And Jesus is so personal that the smallness of him can seem almost counterintuitive. I believe he knows your face and my face and the faces of everyone I just mentioned and then some. The very hairs on our heads are numbered. If even just one of us is lost, he knows it, and he comes looking.
I chose this profession. I've picked a life with people, and as I've mentioned before, some days it's hard. Today was harder than most. Maybe this whole face thing is another part of why we're meant to be together, in community, taking care of each other - so that when the horrible days show up, we're not alone. So that we can catch a glimpse of the immensity of the tenderness of God. When we feel the knots (that come, inevitably, with community), I believe it's a reminder that God is big enough to be powerful and small enough to be personal. What a lovely juxtaposition.
Even though it means we have to feel heartbroken sometimes, may our hearts keep right on breaking for the things that break God's heart. Let us [continue to] see faces.