In October of 2011 we finally moved away from our two-bedroomed flat. It was too small (hence the sinking feeling when finances now mean that this teeny tiny house, our fourth in three years, will be not the temporary, on-our-way-to-a-decent-sized-permanent-home that we had anticipated).
We decided to enlist the professional talents of my friend, Kay, who makes a living as a landlord. She would help us let the flat. In the meantime, Kay was contacted by a mental health charity asking if she would be willing to take on a young man who had a conviction for criminal acts and a history of drug and alcohol abuse. He was homeless, sleeping under a railway arch, desperate for help and wanting to turn his life around. At the time, Kay did not have any properties vacant, so she tentatively approached us.
We discussed it at great length, and considered that, as believers, it would be wrong to turn away a man without shelter. Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, The Message paraphrase).
Kay was promised that the young man, Dave, would receive lots of support from the mental health charity and from the probation service. He would be visited at least twice a week, to ensure that he maintained the tenancy and looked after himself.
Unfortunately, like so much that is ostensibly ‘here to help’, this ‘support’ never materialised, and within a couple of months, despite dear Kay’s efforts at prompting both the charity and probation to do what they had promised, Dave was falling back into old habits. The police were called. The neighbours complained. The property was damaged. Dave’s ‘mate’ stole the wrought iron back gate, and another ‘mate’ kicked a neighbour’s fence in. Enough is enough. With the tenancy agreement clearly breached, Kay had to serve notice. It did not go smoothly.
Several months later, Kay discovered that, contrary to what we had been informed when he began the tenancy, Dave has a history of being housed, causing problems, and then being evicted. So the mental health charity, and the probation service, colluded in a whopper of a lie.
We prayed for Dave during the tenancy. We prayed he would begin to value himself enough to take responsibility for his life situation. Kay visited him more often than she would normally, in a caring attempt at helping him keep up the tenancy. You can lead a horse to water, etc., etc. Mind you, I’ve already spent a decade of my life spilling myself down the drain for someone who had no intentions of changing, and just wanted to cause as much pain as possible (my ex-husband). I’m not about to do it again and I certainly wouldn’t sanction Kay doing that, either.
A year after his tenancy began, we don’t know what’s happened to Dave. I genuinely don’t wish him ill, not in the least, but the situation has clarified some things for me, as a follower of Christ:
1. You must help, where you can. Jesus doesn’t say, ‘you should help, but not on Tuesdays’. He says it quite simply: “I was homeless and you gave me a room”. Where we can help, we must.
Mercy is not optional.
2. You can’t change a person. They have to choose to change themselves. This I learned at Celebrate Recovery. Those who are willing to change, once they learn that they can choose to be different, do so despite the pain and heartache; one step at a time. Those who don’t choose to stop feeling sorry for themselves will never change. I’ve seen both (though I’d never totally give up on anyone, because only God knows a man’s heart). Change begins with recognising that I am responsible for myself, my feelings and my behaviour.
3. You have to draw a line in the sand when something’s not working. Wisdom does not allow a bad situation to continue. Wisdom says:
Dear friend, if you’ve gone into hock with your neighbour
or locked yourself into a deal with a stranger,
If you’ve impulsively promised the shirt off your back
and now find yourself shivering out in the cold,
Friend, don’t waste a minute, get yourself out of that mess.
Proverbs 6:1-3 (The Message)
In other words, don’t be a mug.
4. Unfortunately, there are no numbered, simple rules to following Christ! This is why I am angered when some Christians make it all seem so easy, as if life is totally predictable and straightforward: one, two, three! Easy peasy and you’re on your way to heaven. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
Not on your nelly! Jesus tells us it is the narrow road we are following. Pick up your cross and then say ‘hallelujah’. Suddenly not so easy… (but worth it).
Finally, mercy and wisdom must go hand in hand:
‘…the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’
James 3:17 (NIVUK)