Part 3: Can I have my Dignity Back Please?
One of the definitions of the word dignity is “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed."
One of the things I love about Jesus is how he always treated people with dignity. Not just the people who the world says deserve dignity, but even people who from a worldly perspective don’t deserve honor or esteem.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in all four Gospels. It's when a woman comes to anoint Jesus with expensive perfume. The people at the table with Jesus are uncomfortable because of this woman’s past; however, Jesus esteems the act. While everyone else is down on the woman, Jesus gives her dignity. That has always been one of my favorite accounts in all of the Bible. I remember when I started PiN, a woman came up to me and asked, "Why do Churches keep giving me tooth brushes?" I just shrugged and said, "I guess they think you need one." Sure our image of homeless people is rotting teeth, but I didn’t want to say that out loud. She said, "Well, I already have five toothbrushes in my backpack and I don’t need another one." So I came back at her, "How are they suppose to know how many tooth brushes you have in your backpack?" To which she replied, "If they ask me, I will tell them." OUCH…..
So why do we do this? Because if we are being honest… We think we are smarter than people that are homeless. I have a home and they don’t so I know what is best for them. I know you would never say that out loud; however, we think it... and that’s more dangerous.
I want to dig a little deeper and look at the last word of the definition “esteemed.” The word esteem means "respect and admiration." For most of us we live in a world that we receive respect all day long. We are probably so well respected that if someone disrespects us, we remember it for days… weeks… months…even years later. I know, "What does this have to do with helping homeless people?" Most homeless people live lives of being disrespected. As they are sitting on a bench on the oceanfront, they have to deal with condescending glances, business owners that don’t want them on the benches, and yes—those arms that are being installed on the benches so they can’t sleep on them. We need to have these things in mind as we are serving the homeless. I’m guessing if you are reading this blog you want to esteem the homeless as you are serving them. So here are a few thoughts to help: Instead of looking at what you can do for the homeless, ask how you can help them. When you ask how you can help, engage the person you are helping into the solution. Maybe instead of just giving something, you ask what they need; once again engaging them in helping themselves.
A person who was homeless once told me a story about a time he was sitting on a bench at the Oceanfront when he saw a woman with a young child. He made eye contact with the child and the young girl smiled at him. He smiled back. Then the girl waved at him. He waved back. Finally, the mom looked down and became aware of the interaction that was occurring without her knowledge. She jerked her daughter by the arm and said. “Don’t you ever talk to a person like that.” A person like that? That person was an I.T. professional before he was homeless...
To see other Blogs in this series, click "Charity Hurts"