Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Putting a Face on Pain

Sunday evening we watched the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness. We hadn't seen it before, but had heard it was good. Now that I've seen it, I agree it's a good movie, but it wasn't very easy to watch.

Based on a true story, Will Smith plays a man named Chris Gardner who is struggling to support his wife and five-year-old son. They're behind on rent, taxes, and everything else. The stress becomes too much for his wife, and she leaves. He insists their son remain with him.

It seems that every time something goes well for Chris, five things go wrong. Against all odds he's accepted into an internship at Dean Witter, but it's a non-paying position. He has to try to make ends meet while completing the six month course, with no guarantee of a job at the end of it. He can't afford rent, so they wind up on the street, standing in line for a bed at a local mission, sometimes sleeping in the subway bathroom. His friends let him down. Strangers take advantage of him. His fellow interns and potential bosses have no idea that he's destitute, or that he's a single father, or that he's studying late at night in a stairwell while his son sleeps nearby on a cot at a homeless shelter.

The Pursuit of Happyness is a movie about love and commitment. About how much a man will endure for his son. About not giving up, no matter what.

But it meant something else to me. It made me realize that I far too often stereotype people. If someone is homeless I assume he is either mentally ill or irresponsible or lazy. If he's healthy and smart, I wonder why he doesn't just get a job. I don't make the effort to find out how this person landed on the street. The Pursuit of Happyness let me walk in one man's shoes and allowed me to feel his desperation, to watch the world beat him down again and again, and to realize that, unless I allow God to make me the heart and hands of Jesus to people I encounter, I may add to the pain of someone like Chris Gardner.

I recommend the movie. But even more, I recommend obeying Jesus' command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Even (or maybe especially?) if our neighbor doesn't have a home.

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