"There's no one left to love me" he said with great sadness but without self-pity. "And this," he said, stubbing out his cigarette as he pointed back to the building, "is all I deserve."
It was a moment touched by God; a reminder to me that great love was needed if we really want to help someone. When the two of us met on the front sidewalk of a treatment facility, I was headed to my car, and Jack was smoking his last cigarette before entering a program inside.
We'd met earlier, in the lobby. Jack was waiting for an admission interview and I was waiting to visit a friend nearing the end of his stay. Because of severe staff shortages, Jack's wait would be hours; while mine was to be considerably shorter. Still, the gap gave us time to chat, and I learned Jack was a construction equipment operator in his mid-twenties. As the two of us talked, others awaiting admission jumped in, eager to tell their story---or parts of it---to me, it became clear each was fighting for a chance to show themselves as something other than disposable. Some were scared, while others seemed resigned to this as a regular ritual in their lives.
As we waited, we were forced to watch as dignity became the first casualty of the care there---at one point a veteran waiting to be admitted begged for permission to go to the restroom---and was denied because he hadn't been searched yet, and there wasn't sufficient staff to accompany him. We watched, too, as a group of clients were herded from the cafeteria back to their rooms, a staff person standing at each corner much as guards in a prison do, directing the group en masse, individuality and adulthood all but gone.
To be sure, there were likely reasons for all of these actions, but to outsiders not tasked with trying to fix broken lives and broken worlds from the poorest among us, it was hard to see these things as hope-inducing. Jack, my new young friend, however, saw it with other eyes. "Bad as it is here", he told me, "it"s another chance to get warm while ending the chaos that comes when I fall off the wagon."
Sometime later, having finished my visit, Jack was still in the waiting room as I got ready to leave. I invited him outside, and he walked out to smoke while we chatted. This was the moment God intended out of all the other moments in those hours. Jack told me quietly how his mother's death started the spiral that ended what had been two years of sobriety, and how angry his father was with him. "There"s no one left to love me," he said with great sadness but without self-pity. "And this," he said, stubbing out his cigarette as he pointed back to the building, "is all I deserve."
It was in that instant that I felt the Holy Spirit sweep over me with an affection for Jack and all the others I'd met this day. This was what Jesus meant when He asked us to love beyond the circle of people who love us back. And I said so. "Jack, I want you to know you're wrong. There IS still Someone who loves you---and that's Jesus. I love you, too, because I see you as God sees you---one of His children in deep distress, and someone with great value in His eyes." Then I told him I'd pray for him.
He signaled I'd said enough but hugged me all the same. When he turned around to go back in, I said one last time: "Jack, in this world, there's never a time when there's no one left to love you."
I left, too, without any assurance Jack heard or responded to what I'd said, but fully confident the God I served would remind Jack often of the hope that's found even in the broken places.
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.---Isaiah 55:11