Looking into the mirror

man-looking-in-mirrorMany moons ago, my wife Aubrey and I met while working at Emmaus. Or, more accurately, I was working at Emmaus. She was a volunteer. But she had just finished working there (completing her year of service in Emmaus’s Kaio Community) when we met. Emmaus was one of the things that we shared, and our experiences there were part of what drew us together.

Reflecting on our time there one night a few years back, Aubrey said something profound: Working at Emmaus is like looking into a mirror.

She was right.

If you’re at all introspective, it doesn’t take much time working at Emmaus to realize that what the men we serve here are on the outside, most of us are on the inside. Those dark parts of your personality, the parts you hide and are ashamed of? The guys we serve often have those parts of themselves on display. They live in the midst of them. They can’t often hide them like I can. I can try to forget that those parts of me exist. I have the luxury of pretending that I really am, 100% of the time, that good, loving, generous person people say they love me for being. The guys at Emmaus don’t have that luxury. What I’ve found in my life (and what I suspect is true for most people) is that what often seems most repulsive in the lives of our guys is the reflection of my own darkness that I see in them.

But even working with the guys, I can usually avoid confronting myself as reflected in them. They’re usually grateful, and some of them are even relatively eager to do what they need to in order to change. It’s easier to ignore their “mirror” effect then.

Jack doesn’t allow me to do that, though. I have to look in the mirror with him. Jack is one of the surliest men we serve. He never learned “people skills” growing up. While he accepts that he has mental illness (like a lot of the men we serve), he refuses to get treatment for it. His ADHD makes him impulsive, and the abuse he suffered as a child made him embittered. He often says exactly what’s on his mind, and what’s on his mind is often ungracious and caustic. He has a violent temper. He can also be charming, funny, and sometimes genuinely vulnerable (if you get him in a reflective mood at 1 or 2 in the morning).

But usually, Jack just isn’t very easy to love.

When I’m around him, though, I feel God looking back at me through him, challenging me. Do you really love these men? God seems to ask. Do you really love them when they just aren’t loveable?

I want to answer that I do… but the truth is, I don’t know. The truth is that I’m as broken as Jack is — just in more socially acceptable ways, so it’s a lot harder to tell. The truth is that I just don’t have it in me to love Jack some days.

And that’s okay. Because God does. Because I’m not the source of hope for Jack, or the rest of our guys. I’m not the force motivating and sustaining Emmaus Ministries. Jesus is. He is the source of both Jack’s hope, and mine.

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Chicago IL 60618

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