In February, I met a woman on the streets on our last night in San Francisco. She was rummaging through a set of trash bins, probably gathering bottles and cans to trade in for money. She had a name I’d never heard before; it meant Beloved. We offered her a cup of hot chocolate but she said, “No, thanks.” She simply wanted to talk.
Things were okay, she told me, but she was out on the streets after a fight with her wife over drug-related issues. I encouraged her the best I could, and then we talked for a bit about things I no longer remember. She let us pray with her and gave me a hug before we parted ways.
I’ve thought about and prayed for this woman many times over the past ten months. God used our brief encounter to reveal to me another facet of His unfathomable love for us. As Beloved and I talked about insignificant things, my eyes were opened a little more to His very significant love for us, one that died in our place so that we could be blameless before Him.
It would’ve been easy to focus on the external that we’ve been trained to so quickly identify as sin, to step into that sort of discussion and deal with issues instead of seeing the person before me, but God, through His abundant grace, let me see Beloved through His eyes, as His creation. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance, not condemnation or theological debates.
A few weeks ago, we went out in the streets to talk to our neighbors about God and His love, and two students in our school felt and followed God’s leading to Beloved. As they recounted the story of the divinely-appointed encounter, my heart raced with the realization that this was the same woman whose name was written in my journal, the same woman who God, in His relentless love, was still pursuing.
The time we’ve spent on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles have forced me to confront the uncomfortable, to love the unlovable, and to look the sin of this world and, more importantly, the sin of my own life, in the eye. I’ve realized that the ability to truly love comes from no place other than the heart of God. It’s important to understand the gravity of sin, but until we understand the heart of the One who came to take it all away, our attempts at loving our neighbor will be marred by our imperfect, self-satisfying judgement.
And even then, in the midst of our own confusion and feeble attempts at grasping the vastness of His unconditional love, He is still there, relentlessly pursuing His beloved.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.” — John 3:17