About a week ago, a woman came in to the Well and it was clear she had soiled herself and was not quite all there. She came in hungry, and was looking for a couple dollars to catch the bus so she could get to an appointment. A new volunteer asked if we could open the shower for her to wash up, and of course we could. She got something to eat, eventually took a shower and changed her clothes. I had no cash, but we had extra help at the Well that day and I was free to leave for a short time so I offered her a ride to her appointment. All this woman needed was a friend to help with transportation. Unfortunately, because the Well was still open, I could not walk in with this woman or sit with her through the appointment. I had to drop her off and get back to the Well to care for the many people there. Normally, I wouldn’t be able to leave and assist this woman at all. Hers was a simple need, and as I reflected, I became discouraged about how few people commit to the cause.
There’s an interesting phenomenon that happens when you begin sharing life with people that have no home. While among your peers, you may share about your day or a small tidbit of what you do may come up, and there appears a glaze in their eyes and a knowing smile, while the words, “oh, you’re such a good person” escape their lips. That remark has always made me uncomfortable. In a way, that remark protects the person making it from acknowledging that this is something they can do, too. It idolizes the one who does the work, putting them on a pedestal that seems unreachable and unnecessary to someone’s everyday life.
But that’s not true. This type of work is accessible to everyone, and our work at the Well does not make us good people. We do not do it because love overflows from our hearts and we have warm fuzzy feelings for the world. Most days, this work hurts and leaves us feeling helpless. When I hear people praising the work we do in such a way, I confess I get angry. I question, “if it’s so good, why aren’t others here? Why isn’t our whole city taking better care of each other? Why don’t you do this work, too?” Not to say everyone must be at the Well, but what if everyone took it on themselves to find one person in need of a friend, and poured their life and energy into loving them? People praise our work, and then send people to us so we can help them, releasing them from the burden of caring for someone. That is not ok.
Currently we have 4 official staff members and about 10+ regular weekly volunteers. That’s 14 people regularly trying to be a friend and committed to the 50 to 100 people that walk through the doors of The Well. It is too much for us to love people well. But if those of us in Tampa who are housed and stable opened up our hearts to just one person, people would not need the Well on a daily basis, and the 4 staff members and 10+ volunteer team would not be killing themselves to meet everyones need. We could focus, and truly walk alongside people in much needed restorative relationships.
At the Well, we do not find people housing, we are not equipped to find them jobs, nor are we equipped to assist them in recovering from addiction. We are here simply to befriend people, and hope that through those friendships dignity is found for those who are outcast, and humanity and community recovered for those who live disconnected from their suffering sisters and brothers. In this befriending, needs are often met. But something the staff has been convicted of lately is that we do not and can not be everyone’s friend. If you are everyone’s friend, you will be no one’s friend. If you are trying to meet the needs of everyone, there will be some serious needs that go unmet in the lives of the people close to you. It’s draining us, and we have realized how our many yes’s mean we are stretched thin, and cannot give out of the fullness of our hearts when we encounter people. Running on empty, we may actually contribute to the alienation and pain that someone may feel because we have nothing to offer from the depletion of our own energy. This is incredibly convicting. We are here to love people well, but we cannot because there are too many people and too few of us.
So we will be cutting back, retreating, so that we can love better. Love ourselves, love each other, and love the stranger we hope will become a friend. And I want to challenge you, the next time you see someone on the side of the road, ask yourself what you can do for them. The next time you meet someone in need, stop your hand from reaching to your phone to call your humanitarian friend. I promise you, their heart is already breaking from the amount of people they cannot help. Open up your own heart to that person. If they need a meal, take them out to dinner. If they need clothes, open up your closet or take them shopping. If they need to be listened to, open up your ears. If they need a place to stay, open up your guest room. If they need family, open up your family. Not in charity, but in true hospitality that recognizes the face of Jesus in everyone you meet. Someone whom you sought as friend may someday become your brother or sister. Bear someone else’s burden, and share the work of loving the needy in our city.
Find someone you genuinely connect with and share your abundance with them. We are tired from sharing from our emptiness.