Jumping to Conclusions

This past weekend I was in Jersey. I have always called it New Jersey, but the natives shorten their beloved state’s name. Over the years, Bill and I have made great friends from Jersey. Even so, the picture we have had of New Jersey has mostly been painted from driving on the Jersey turnpike or arriving in the Newark airport. Hardly “The Garden State”, we thought.

The reason for heading north was an engagement Bill had to speak at a weekend retreat. We decided to take the train a couple of days early, to visit friends, see their world and maybe even slip into NYC . The beautiful small towns in New Jersey with lush trees, foliage, and beautiful homes, definitely repainted our pictures. It really is the Garden State after all.

The retreat, for Grace Redeemer Presbyterian Church, was held at Camp of the Woods in upstate New York. We were interacting with another great group of people and although there was a mix of cultural backgrounds, most shared similar values and faith. There was a community of care, concern and support. Sure, there were individuals and families going through some tough spots, but that night in the beautiful Adrionacks , we all had plenty to eat and a place to sleep.

Our trip was a total of five days. During these days I had moments to also view another side of life, a definite contrast . Two situations come to mind.

One was a visit Bill and I had to a home for women in NYC. I had been there a couple of times before because my good friend is the city director for this mission. On these visits I have met women who look just like me, have similar interests, have families and people they care about, some have advanced graduate degrees, but they all have one factor in common…. they are homeless. The reasons why they are homeless are varied, but they are all committed to this faith based program that will help them live independently. Their paths have led them to this haven.

A second, “collision of worlds,” was at the Newark train station. It was 6:30 in the morning and we were heading back to Virginia. After being dropped off at the station, we walked into the waiting room with two pieces of luggage, a grande hot coffee with a malfunctioning lid and a water bagel. Believe me, we needed a seat and the quicker the better. However, the scene I saw was one I will not soon forget. There were hundreds of benches and seats but, not one place to sit down. Homeless men and women; young and old; some with plastic bags, some with nothing; some stretched out on benches, some crammed and slouched in upright seats but every occupied space in the room was taken. I had just left a lovely home in Wyckoff with a comfortable bed, Egyptian cotton sheets and a nice warm shower. Bill and I propped ourselves against the wall. Around 7am a group of policemen came in and started to arouse the sleeping masses. They seemed to know the secret places that people were stretching out and hiding to get a couple hours of rest. In these minutes I was impressed with the respect that the policemen gave this group of 200 as they hustled them outside. They called some by name, but everyone seemed to know the routine. By 7:15am, the seats were filled with men and women in their Brooks Brothers suits, Ferragamo shoes and Tumi brief cases, people heading for their day in The Big Apple.

Okay, we all know that this is a serious problem in any big city, so whats new? This seems to be an ongoing problem in most societies. My point for today is, how easy it is to be thrown off track when we see such difficult situations. For a few minutes I was entertaining thoughts like, “Surely there must be a homeless shelter near by. Isn’t there some church with a soup kitchen or a mission? There must be another alternative. Doesn’t the city care about this?” Maybe there is a right program, handy manual or an individual who has the persuasive words to whip everyone into shape. But, what do I know? How fast I can jump to conclusions and find easy solutions. My own pride says, “Think what I think. Look what worked for me. If only you did this you will have the right outcome.” This attitude can transcend all kinds of situations, not just homelessness.

It is easier to give quick solutions when we are not invested. Maybe, we offer our opinions for others because it takes the focus off ourselves. Maybe, if we weren’t spending all of our time evaluating others we would have to face the areas in our lives that we COULD do something about. But, what do we do? We look at others and evaluate them, and often become the judge. Why are they sad? Why are they so happy? They act like their last Valium just kicked in. Why are they quiet, or why don’t they put a sock in their mouth? Why are they fat or why are they so thin? Why do they speak of family values and why are their children having such troubles? Why do some marriages seem like there are no issues and then others constantly struggle? Why are some people always struggling financially and others are rolling in the dough? Why are some rich and some poor? Why do some have a warm place to sleep and others are homeless?

What is becoming my answer in these last years? I don’t know. I don’t know. Everyone has a story. For me to think that I have a quick answer that can whip them into shape is wrong. What do I know? When my questions lead to compassion and mercy then I am making progress. Questions that lead me to evaluate another person and make quick conclusions go nowhere. There are times when I am to reach out immediately, there are times I am to ponder further action, and there are times I need to pray for others. What do I know? I do know that I am to look with the eyes of compassion and grace with which Jesus has looked at me.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” Psalms 103:8 (NIV)

There is a story for me behind every set of eyes. Scotty Smith in his book, Everyday Prayers, states, ” Gentle my heart with your kindness and grace…Help me to slow….way….down. Help me to see people with your eyes and respond to them with your heart. There are no ordinary people around me. Everybody matters. Everybody has stories of heartache, foolishness, fear, and longing just like me.”


2 thoughts on “Jumping to Conclusions

  1. Why is it so easy for us to judge those who haven’t taken gone down our same path? This is a great reminder for us. Thanks for sharing!

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