I see the parlors as being similar to blocks of ice. Years of isolation have hardened that ice, and it can seem impenetrable. Yet is it really? Are the parlors really untouchable? Or does it seem that way only because we, the Christian community in general, have abandoned the people inside them? And if it is true that we have, what does reaching out to them mean and look like?
I looked at Luke 15 this morning. People were grumbling because Jesus went to the tax collectors and the sinners. Humans don’t seem to change much no matter how the technology we invent. For whatever reason, we like to erect lines and classifications, being sure to place “us” in one category and “them” in another, and the two don’t meet.
Jesus, however, was different. He didn’t care about classifications. He ignored lines, stepping over them to go be with the “others”. He talked to them. He ate with them. He relaxed with them. He did not avoid them. He did not feel uncomfortable with them. He knew exactly what they did and loved them anyway. He was not afraid, and he saw no one in front of him save people who needed Him. He actually liked them!
What a challenge to live that way. It runs contrary to our own instincts. He challenges us to drop our preconceptions and to follow Him to people we normally avoid because we assume we know them – but we don’t.
It’s hard to explain how I feel when I am talking with a woman in a parlor’s lobby. I have known a few women for over a year, and when I see them, I am happy and give them a hug. I try to find out how they have been, if they are sick, and how they feel. The language barrier can be hard to overcome, but I do my best to let them know how genuinely glad I am to see them again. It seems mutual. In these moments, I am sometimes struck by how at ease I feel. Maybe the Holy Spirit is there, easing the communication between everyone.
For other women, it might be the first time I have ever seen them. Different outcomes can happen when this is true. Sometimes we are just flat-out rejected. That’s definitely disappointing, but it won’t always be that way. More perseverance is just required.
Others, though, open up to us a little. Some will let us pray for them. We hold hands and ask God to ease whatever burden the woman is experiencing. A few have told us about some of their problems, and we do our best to listen and be supportive. In a few cases, we have been blessed to be there for women experiencing devastating times in their lives. Even if we never see that woman again, it is still unforgettable to be the rock that she apparently needed right there in that moment.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned throughout all of this is this: when you strip away all the reasons you “shouldn’t” be there, you are left with the simple reality that you are talking face-to-face with a lonely human being. You are standing with her in her time of need. You are no different from her, and you feel compassion.
That, I think, is when the ice begins to melt. When you stop putting yourself above someone else and instead honestly care about the person no matter what she may or may not be doing, the ice melts. It melts faster at some parlors than it does at others, but it does melt. What is revealed when years of ice are gone remains to be seen, but I think God has a plan for that. We just have to persevere and remain true to our mission.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!