Talking about Hurt and Helping

Posted on August 10, 2010


As Christians we are called to “love our neighbor as ourselves” and to “help one another”.   Yet when helping people there often comes a time when you realize that there is nothing you can do to help … even though you are certain things are not as they SHOULD be.  Perhaps it is seeing a new bruise on a client that is being abused at home. Perhaps a family you are working with is losing their house because of medical expenses and a layoff due to overseas competition.  Perhaps the person sitting next to you is going to go to lonely room with a bottle of alcohol and consume it before the night is over.  When you care it hurts … and it hurts bad.  It’s easy to become discouraged, to be angry or even to give up.  How do we reconcile that love never fails, that God is there, yet these things happen.  What is our role as helpers?I took some inspiration this week from 1 Corinthians 13:7 -12 where it says “It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  To me it means that we are called upon to continue in our presence as loving people no matter what.  Why?  Because right now, as Paul says later in his letter, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror.”  We don’t know the outcome of our loving and supportive presence in a person’s life.  We don’t know what lifting up someone in our prayers will do, but we have faith that through the help of the Divine, our actions will in some way make a difference.   Nowhere in the Bible are we told that our life will be without pain.  The emphasis here is on continuing our outreach to others in spite of that pain and let the Holy Spirit do its work.

I had a personal glimpse of what it means to fail in my helping, yet with God’s help make a difference…

One evening as I was working as a supervisor in a crisis clinic in Seattle, a man, obviously drunk, came stumbling in with a bottle of some alcoholic beverage and sat down on the couch.  As our rules included “no drugs or alcohol on the premises”, I came over to let the man know that he was welcome to stay but he had to leave his bottle outside.  Suddenly the man flung his arm out breaking the bottle on a table as he rose up in a rage exclaiming that there was no f…..g way he would be told what he could do or not do.  He bolted towards me with the broken bottle but I had the wits to step aside and remember some of my wrestling take down moves from high school.  The broken bottle rolled away out of reach as he landed on his stomach and then he rolled over with me still on top of him.   Very quickly I realized that he was tremendously strong and I still was at risk — at one point I was pinning his arm with my whole weight and yet he was able to lift me completely off the ground.

Fortunately we had a full crew that night, a Saturday night with a full moon, no less, and I soon had some help in keeping the man immobilized.  I ended up sitting on his chest and while he was lying there swearing and spitting in my face, I felt compassion … love … for this man who could have killed me.  I didn’t know where all this came from, neither my calmness and certainty nor the love I felt, but it was there in my presence with this man as I looked down into his angry and tortured eyes.  Soon the police came.  With some difficulty the officers got the man packed up in the cruiser and took him away.  One of the officers found what he thought was PCP on his person — explaining the almost superhuman strength.  After the man was taken away from the clinic, we were all silent as we cleaned up.  We didn’t say much to each other the rest of the night.  Besides relief, I think we all felt sad, helpless and a bit like we failed somehow.  I know I did.  What possible good did we do this evening with this disturbed man who came to hang out at our clinic?

About a month or so later, and earlier in the day, I looked up to find the same man coming in the door and purposefully coming over to me.  I tensed up thinking at first that he came back to get even.  While I watched him warily he marched up to me, getting to within about a foot of my face and what happened next totally astonished me.  He said, “Why didn’t you beat the s..t out of me!?” He continued: “You had me down, why didn’t you just wail on me? I would have…”  Being unable to speak at first, I looked at this man.  His face was open, perplexed and questioning.  He meant me no harm. He just needed to know more about what apparently for him was a new alternative way of dealing with people.  I told him how I felt when he was spitting and swearing at me and why the best I could.  I could tell that although my words didn’t make much sense to him, that the mere fact I didn’t beat him up was a life-changing revelation to him.  He thanked me and left, but I felt like I was the one that should have thanked him for the gift of knowing that that night I made a difference in his life … even though I had failed in my own eyes.

– Steve