Never homeless in God's care

One winter night about three years ago, I was walking with a friend in a large city. We were out for the evening and had just finished a nice visit over dinner. While strolling and window shopping on our way home, we came upon a young man—a boy, really—sitting on some steps, shivering and holding a cardboard sign that said: “Homeless and hungry. Please help. I will not buy drugs.”

We approached, met his eyes, but kept on walking. Neither my friend nor I spoke. We’re both mothers, and I think we were feeling some of the same emotions. But about 20 silent strides later, I could feel my emotions rising uncontrollably within me, and I began to physically shake. I had to stop and lean against a building. My friend stopped alongside me as well, and held my hand.

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“I have to do something,” I told her through tears. “We can’t just leave that kid there. We have to go back. We have to take him home.” We stood there for a while in the cold, wondering what to do; me shaking and crying, and my friend standing there with me being very still and kind. Then my friend asked: “What is it? Why do you think you’re having this strong of an emotional reaction?” 

I told her why. A couple of years before, someone dear to me had been in dire straits. By all accounts and for all intents and purposes, he had been “homeless.” Although he eventually emerged from that experience unscathed and blessed, it had been a difficult time for my family and me. Now, here I was on this street, assaulted with no warning by old emotions and fears, identifying the boy we’d just passed as vulnerable, at risk, and utterly homeless. I felt helpless, guilty, and falsely responsible for him.

These were all understandable emotions, but ultimately not helpful—either to me or to this young man. I could get him a sandwich, I could buy him a coat, and I could even bring him home with me and give him a bed. I could do all that, and maybe I should, I thought. But then it began to dawn on me that identifying him correctly, spiritually, through prayer, should be my first order of business. So, that’s what I decided to do. 

My prayer started by declaring my right to see man, including this individual, as whole, safe, fed, and loved.

My friend (also a Christian Scientist) prayed with me, and we stood there in silence for a good ten minutes. My prayer started by declaring my right to see man, including this individual, as whole, safe, fed, and loved. I prayed right there on the street, in the darkness, to understand more clearly that God’s goodness is inevitable, that God, Truth, is a living, spiritual presence, meeting every human need. I mentally turned away from the picture of homelessness and replaced it with the right view of man as God made him—dignified, full of purpose, and always embarking on a divine adventure.

That “turning away” might seem like an unsympathetic response, but Jesus actually prayed in a similar manner—and he was infinitely compassionate and took a healing approach to human needs. He did not spend time or emotion trying to fix some problem. Instead, he lifted and awakened thought. He rightly identified man as already whole and spiritual. 

Mary Baker Eddy understood this deeply and wrote about it so others could practice this kind of healing. She wrote: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, pp. 476–477). 

My study of Christian Science has helped me to understand that if I’m in sympathy with “error,” then, in effect, I give it power and make it a god. I wasn’t interested in making homelessness, or any other discord, into a god. I knew I never needed to believe that indigence, addiction, or insecurity are real—are God-given or any part of man’s being. 

Yet, I didn’t want to be insensitive about homelessness, either, or pretend that it wasn’t there. I couldn’t be callous or indifferent. As Eddy counseled, “If we turn away from the poor, we are not ready to receive the reward of Him who blesses the poor” (Science and Health, p. 8). 

After praying silently with my friend, we both felt a sense of peace. And it wasn’t just a manufactured peace, or a self-generated comfort. It was true, divine peace. The kind you feel deep within. I was no longer one bit afraid for that young man. In fact, I felt absolutely confident that he was not excluded from Love, God—and so, from that spiritual standpoint, I knew he was not homeless now, never was homeless, and never truly could be. 

After a bit my friend and I decided we’d walk back that way and just ask this young man if he wanted a sandwich. When we got there, though, he seemed like a different person. He was sitting on the same steps, but his sign was now gone, and he was talking and laughing with someone his own age, who seemed kindly and caring. As we passed by, I heard his “friend” say, “So, hey … you want to get some pizza, man?”

Truthfully, I don’t know anything about who this boy was, where he ended up that night, or what he did with the rest of his life. And even if he had been just looking for extra cash, I know that I was healed, for good, of believing that God’s own child could be left in the cold, in want, or outside of Love’s care. And I believe that our prayers that night allowed my friend and me to see—not produce, but see—in a small way, the evidence and sufficiency of good that was already present for this young man and for all. 

I’m no longer impressed with homelessness as a necessary condition for anyone. And I feel more compassionate because of that, not less, because I know I can respond prayerfully. I never have to just walk by. And although I respect, support, and, in fact, participate in social justice programs that address homelessness, I know that I can always pray with a deep, fervent love, a Christly prayer, and rest knowing that this is ultimately the most effective and powerful way to address the suggestion that anyone could be weak or victimized.

When I immediately and vigorously defend my right to think clearly, see rightly, and reason correctly in the light of honest spiritual assessment, then I can free myself from reacting viscerally to any disturbing situation—whether it’s homelessness, disease, or even death. I can affirm the real spiritual truth about whatever that situation is. And Truth, God, heals it.

Home away from home
October 1, 2012

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