Every year our church opens its doors for a week as a warming center hosting the homeless. On a given night, we might serve anywhere from sixty to more than one-hundred individuals, providing two hot meals (dinner and breakfast) and a dry, warm place to sleep. Our guests arrive at 7 p.m. and leave by 7 the following morning.
Finding volunteers to assist with check-in, security, cooking and serving isn’t difficult. In fact, neighboring churches offer their resources and local businesses are always generous with donations.
However, the first few years we ran the warming center, it was a challenge getting people to sign up for morning clean-up. The early shift requires arrival at the church by 6:30 a.m. and includes cleaning the eating area, mopping and vacuuming the floors and (ugh) scrubbing and disinfecting the bathrooms.
One morning I was working alone in the women’s bathroom and discovered that someone had been sick the night before and left a mess. (Let your imagination run.) When it comes to cleaning up other people’s messes, my stomach leans on the weak side, and this particular morning was no exception.
I pulled the bucket of hot water with strong disinfectant close to the bathroom stall and began to clean, trying my best not to gag. I prayed hard, asking God to give me strength to finish this very unpleasant task. Soon self-pity took over and I found some comfort in feeling sorry for myself. I even silently grumbled that no one else was helping me clean up the mess.
Within seconds, God corrected me. “Stop your pity-party,” He seemed to say. “Why aren’t you praying for the woman who is sick? You can go home, shower and change clothes. You can even throw your clothes away if you want. But this poor woman has no home. She will wander the streets all day until the warming center opens this evening.”
God has a way with words, doesn’t He? I was duly corrected and ashamed of myself. Here I was, supposedly serving other people, but I was making it all about me. His rebuke was exactly what I needed to finish the job. As I emptied the bucket of water, I prayed for the safety and healing of the woman who really needed a touch from God that day.
Self-focus knows how to skew our vision so we don’t see the needs of others, and we forget why we’re helping them in the first place. If we’re not careful, self-focus can even overshadow the very presence of God in a situation. Maybe that’s why John the disciple said, “He [Jesus] must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30).
This Christmas season, let’s purpose to be “shrink-wrapped” so people will see less of us and more of God.