Wednesday, November 26, 2014

To See

Two days a week I work at a locked psychiatric hospital located in south Los Angeles.  Tucked neatly between Inglewood and Compton, it's not in an area you want to be after dark and I recently discovered that it's not a place I want to be during daylight hours either.  As I took my exit one day recently, I approached the intersection where I make my last right turn to get to the facility.  When I neared I saw a man running across the street to my left with several more men running after him.  The scene was ominous, but it wasn't until I directed my attention to the stop light ahead that I began to fervently pray.  Across the street from me was a group of at least five other males, one of whom was on the ground being beaten so mercilessly that I feared the others would kill him. I didn't know whether or not they had guns, but given the area I knew a shooting wasn't unlikely and I was sitting right in the crossfire.  With a car in front of me, behind me, and beside me, I felt trapped and scared.  In a panicked state I could only watch in horror and pray to the heavens as he lay there on the ground while a multitude relentlessly assailed him. The truth is, I didn't know what to do.  Not knowing how much more violent it was going to get, I took a quick inventory of my options, but wedged between three cars I could only wait and seek the Lord. As I tearfully watched the man being attacked, I begged God to make them all stop.  I could think of nothing else to do but pray, so I prayed. And prayed. And prayed.  I had no idea what would happen next as I examined the flailing victim on the ground and my own precarious position. My heart hurt for the entire situation and my mind raced with what ifs.  The scene reeked of gang violence and I couldn't understand why I was there at that exact moment in time.  I didn't know what the Lord wanted of me right then or why timing worked out perfectly for me to witness it all.  Was I supposed to help somehow, and if so, in what way? Though I prayed relentlessly, I felt useless and frightened.  I pleaded for God to intervene and then suddenly the car in front of me moved and I had the opportunity to go around him.  I took one last glance at the ongoing assault and sped away in fitful prayer. I sought the Lord's intervention, but also my own understanding. Why was I there? What was God's purpose in allowing me to see it all? It would be days later before I realized that the answer was in the question.  

Almost all of the patients I work with at the hospital have been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.  They are haunted by delusions, hallucinations, and an overall loss of touch with reality.  The world isn't a safe place for them and they find it difficult to trust anyone.  As I walk the halls when I'm there, I'm overcome by a mixture of emotion, but one question always surfaces. How did they get here? In my endeavor to help them, I long to understand them.  Many were once working professionals and even scholars, and at the other end of the spectrum are those who either lived on the streets, struggled with addiction, or endured some kind of abuse and trauma. Interestingly enough, the succession of life choices made by both scholar and addict, professional businessman and homeless beggar, led them to arrive at the same locked psychiatric hospital.  Did one make better choices than the other? Apparently not.  Or, is it even about the choices each one of them made? Sometimes the focus need not be on our decisions, but on our experiences.  People don't need our judgment over their poor calls, they need our compassion for what they've endured.  So at what point do we move from criticism over one's choices to support and understanding for their experiences?  When do we say to another fellow sinner okay, you made some bad choices, but let me help you where you are now

Perhaps it's the therapist in me, or maybe I've just made so many of my own bad decisions that I can easily relate, but I'm weary from listening to people simplify the wrecked lives of others in one sentence summations like his choices got him there or we have choices and he made his...  We are all infinitely more complex on the inside and our poor choices are usually symptomatic of a bigger issue.  Who are any of us to criticize the bad calls others make? James 4:12 says that there is only one judge, the One who is able to save and destroy.  He continues by asking the question "who are you to judge your neighbor?" So often our tendency is to focus on the fact that two different people can grow up in the same unfortunate circumstances and only one of them rise above.  For example, Joyce Meyer and her brother both grew up in a household of abuse, hers actually worse than his.   She now runs a worldwide ministry and uses her life and story to encourage others all over the globe.  Her brother on the other hand led a life of crime, addiction, and self pity that culminated with his body being found in an abandoned building in Los Angeles several years ago.  What happened? From what we can tell through our limited perspective, she made very different decisions and therefore had very different results.  As onlookers we applaud her bravery and determination but shake our head at him, while musing things like "what a shame and it didn't have to end that way..." In just a few sentences we manage to strip a person's life of meaning and cover it with the ash heap of words like "shame" and "regret" and "unfortunate."  Then what? Do we go about the business of our own life in our own little world? Or, do we go to the trenches where people are making those bad decisions and teach them how to make better ones?  How are we making the world a better place by sitting on our couch talking about what a shame another man's life turned out to be? Don't be a spectator, be an impactor.  No one grows up with a wish to become an addict, criminal, or homeless beggar, but in many cases that's what winds up happening.  I dare not deny that the choices we make directly affect our life, but what I propose is that we get up from our judge's bench and walk alongside someone who is making "shameful" or "regretful" or "unfortunate" choices and actually help them to make better ones. Jesus said in Matthew 5:16 to "let your light shine before men," and they may still wind up dead in an abandoned building like Joyce Meyer's brother, but at least we endeavored to help them and obeyed the call to shine our light.  For one person, it might just be the most beautiful fireworks show they ever see.  At the end of my days I don't answer for how others lived their life anyway; I answer for how I lived mine and you will answer for how you're living yours. Be an impactor, not a spectator.  

This journey of discovery began with my question to God about why I witnessed such a violent attack. I was so incredibly shaken by what I saw and I knew the Lord had a purpose (Proverbs 16:4, Proverbs 19:21) in allowing me to be there at that exact moment in time, but I didn't know what it was.  Days before I had been endeavoring to understand the patients with whom I work and piecing together bits of their life stories.  I was amazed at the differences.  While some were addicts from the street, others were former successful businessmen and women.  The resident rooms in the hospital where I work are filled with a painful mix of not only poor decisions, sadness, despair, tragedy, abuse, and trauma, but also colorful shades of laughter, hope, resilience, perseverance, and strength.  I dare you to walk in the shoes of a sodomized child, battered wife, or brainwashed cult victim and then utter words like we all have choices when they wind up on the street or addicted to drugs.  While that's true, it's also accurate that not everyone has the same measure of strength and wisdom and ability.  Some people undeniably need more help than others.  Not everyone automatically knows how to cope with the blows of life and to assume that we should all just "make better choices" is arrogant when we've not walked the path others have walked. Focus less on one's choices and more on their experiences.  Go to skid row. Go to your local homeless shelter.  Go to the prisons.  The word "go" is used in the Bible around 1,544 times, so this tells me we're not meant to sit and spectate; we're meant to go and impact the world around us.  Instead of keeping your distance and judging from afar, make your own good choice to go and get to know some of the people who you think have done it all so wrong.  You might just be surprised by what you learn.

So why did God allow me to see the attack that morning? His answer was in the question: it was to help me see. See what? I got to see me.  In a perfect display of human imperfection, I saw my own strong sense of self-preservation, but also my tendency to keep distance and judge from afar. I could have done more that day, but I didn't.  I relied on the promise of James 5:16 that says the "prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." I didn't want to get physically involved or put myself at risk, so I prayed.  Don't get me wrong, I believe prayer is the most powerful weapon we have in our spiritual arsenal, and that's a big part of why God led me there that day.  I didn't know what to do so I prayed, but I beat myself up for weeks over not doing more until my friend Dawn reminded me that I did the most important thing.  Sure I could have called the police, but who did I call on instead? I called on the Alpha and Omega, the First and Last, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13). As my eyes connected with the situation, I immediately went into prayer and He heard. (Jeremiah 29:12).  For all I know none of the other people in the vicinity were praying over that man's life and that is why I was there. As my friend rebuked my feelings of guilt - I knew my prayers were more than enough. Here's what else I saw that day though during those brief few minutes.  I saw a woman running over to the fight, presumably to intervene and break it up.  Perhaps she knew the people, perhaps she didn't, but in that moment she went into the trenches.  She decided to go and she went. She got involved.  Like the good Samaritan who stopped to help (Luke 10:25-37), she didn't just walk away or drive past.  She wasn't so obsessed with her own life that she was unwilling to lay it down for the life of another (John 15:13).  She chose to help. I don't doubt my contribution as well to the situation that day.  I know the Lord heard my prayers (Psalm 66:19) and moved according to His will, but I also know that His purposes involved allowing me to see me and where I am on this journey.  Like many others, I can easily find myself also keeping my distance and judging from afar.  Since much of this entry has been about choices, let's each make the good decision to help a little more because whether we see ourselves or not, God sees us all. Have the courage to ask Him for eyes that see, not only others, but also yourself.  Especially yourself, and don't presume that you know yourself so well that God can't show you more.  Before you decide you see someone clearly from the poor life choices they made, make sure you see yourself clearly.  And then go!

Matthew 25:31-46
31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’
44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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