In October, Diane and I had the chance to attend a consultation of urban IV staff from around the country. One of the things that we talked about there was how often times people in the Church go into an urban trance where we look right through, look right past, the problems in our streets and in our cities. It just seems too overwhelming to pay attention and to care, and so we keep the poor and marginalized faceless and nameless. As we talked, I realized that I had been doing that in Glenwood. My heart had grown numb, and I basically went from my car to the house to my car to work and on and on. I lived in the midst of some hard things and broken people, but I didn’t see them anymore. I had become accustomed to prostitutes walking my streets, to kids with messed up families, to the same middle-aged men with no jobs who walk around day after day, and my heart no longer broke.
And so I decided that one way to break the trance was to get out of the house, back out into the neighborhood, to prayer-walk my block and ask God for His leading and His heart. On my first time doing that, I heard the Lord speak one word to me – Relationship. And as I thought about that, I realized that I had not been building relationships with my neighbors. I was too tired, too busy, too scared, too numbed by the urban trance. Just after He spoke that to me, a woman and a man were walking down the street, and so I asked them if I could pray for them. She was in need of a more stable housing situation and he needed work, and so we held hands in the middle of street and prayed. When I finished, she said, “Believe it or not, I feel a little better.” I told her that I definitely did believe it – when we connect with God, things change and we sense the light of His presence.
I haven’t been the same since then, because my heart has been reconnected to my neighborhood. The faces I see aren’t just faces – they are people, precious to God whether they know it or now. And I've also been feeling sad. In many ways the urban trance is easier because it doesn’t hurt. It’s easier because I don’t have to get in touch with my helplessness.
But seeing a prostitute on my block that I have known for years and feeling my heart break for her, rather than ignoring her, makes me aware of my need for Jesus. Stopping my car in the night, getting out and telling her that Christ loves her and has so much life available to her, and then watching her receive that with cool indifference makes me feel helpless. "Jesus loves you" is the most powerful concept in the world, but in the face of a hard heart it seems so weak.
But relationship leads us to pray, to love, to care, and to need. And in those places, we find Jesus, and in those places, He begins to live His life through us. Maybe the words seem simple and the acts of kindness seem pointless. But our job is not to produce results, but simply to be faithful and live with His heart beating in us. Relationship with neighbors and relationship with Jesus breaks the urban trance.