“I do not understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are,
but does not leave us where it found us.” Anne Lamott
“Even though I’ve got a place, I still feel homeless.” When asked to explain, Ron speaks of blank walls that haunt him.
Ron has been on the street or on the road most of his adult life. He claims to be a loner, but actually he hungers to belong and to be part of something. Like other guests, he thinks of Listening House with affection. People often enter feeling friendless, hoping for a short stay, but then come back even when circumstances improve. That is the mystery and marvel of this mission.
There is little pretense left by the time someone becomes homeless. Facades that can protect us in other settings disappear. Guests recognize our shortcomings as surely as we recognize theirs, and so we begin to relate to one another in a more unvarnished way. Quite a few guests are fighting grueling battles with addiction or an untreated mental illness. Deep down, they want very much to change or to feel normal, but can’t step out of their darkness. Some change in significant ways, others are swallowed up by their demons. In either circumstance, it matters to them that someone cares.
Staff and volunteers strive to meet people where they are. We don’t know what their journey has been or what they learned or were taught. But we do know when our attitude assumes they are basically good, people respond more positively. Oddly, this same approach can call attention to deception and signal staff to keep an eye on someone. Since our primary objective is to build trust with guests, it’s a delicate dance.
To do this, we need to balance authority with kindness. Ron once said, “Everyone here knows staff has the power to put us out in the cold.” His stark description speaks of the powerlessness of being homeless. In our crowded space, respectful behavior is absolutely necessary and though guests recognize the value of our rule, when they mess up they want to know a fresh start is possible.
Grace is active. It comes to us as it does our guests, and makes understanding each other easier.