The Untold Spiritual Story of Homelessness

Edwin Copeland
homelessChristians are called to be a changed and transformed people, bringing change and transformation to their lives, their neighbors and their communities. However, there exists within this beautiful, yet broken body we call the Church a subtle chasm that hinders its mission and wounds its people – guilt and shame.

From its inception, the church as represented by the people of Israel, has always had prophets – voices in the wilderness calling God’s people back to the realities of their calling to be a demonstration community. Their words often provided encouragement, presented challenges, stirred emotion, and inspired change. It is our hope that these words can do just that.

Guilt and shame are powerful motivators. Under their weight, behaviors can change, actions can be modified, and wills can be broken. However powerful the grip of guilt and shame may be, their use within the context of spirituality will always leave hearts homeless – longing for security, acceptance, honesty and worth.

Homeless Spirituality

If there is one thing many homeless individuals and families have in common it’s that part of their journey includes making mistakes. Often these mistakes seem minimal: a poor choice while out with friends, ill placed words, an outburst at work, or experimenting with something to help ease the pain of generational brokenness. However, over time, bridges are burned, friendships are lost and poverty begins. Many turn to their church, pastor or spiritual community for guidance only to be confronted by shame and unbearable guilt. “God only helps those who help themselves,” is uttered so frequently that we forget that, in reality, God continually helps us when we cannot help ourselves. In fact, the whole story of Christianity began with a God who died for us while we were still sinners (Romans 3), and whose Spirit renews us with grace every morning (Lamentations 3).

Many who find themselves homeless have made the exact same mistakes you and I have made throughout our lives. However, because we had the resources of family, community and friends, we could better hide our mistakes and find grace to begin again. Those who are homeless do not enjoy these realities. Yes, they may have made mistakes. Yes, they may have burned bridges. But so have we. Take a brief moment of clarity to reflect on yourself. What you’ll find are a host of mistakes, disappointments and failures. Thankfully, those moments don’t define you. Because of Jesus, God’s people are defined by beautiful, life altering words like: forgiven, justified, and righteous. Further, they are commissioned to shine like stars in the universe (Philippians 2), and be a city on a hill (Matthew 5).

Throughout our 17 years of ministry to those who find themselves homeless in our community, too many stories of pain have been told. Too many stories of hearts that have been disillusioned with the church, broken by shame, and burdened by guilt have been heard. Too often those wounds have been inflicted by the very people called to bring healing and peace to their lives.

Thankfully there is HOPE.

Just like our mistakes, homelessness does not define those we serve. They need the same reminder we enjoy while we struggle: grace. Grace changes everything. Grace reorients our lives, our hearts and our perceptions of others. Grace impacts and influences the way we interact with those who are homeless and hurting. Grace reminds us that while we were still sinners, and while we continually fall short of the God’s glory, Christ died for us. Ultimately, grace reminds us of our own journey and leads us to repent and confess our quiet, untold thoughts of those who are homeless.

In grace we are free. Free to struggle. Free to fail. Free to love.

Edwin Copeland serves as the Vice President of Community Engagement for HOPE South Florida. Edwin can be reached at [email protected] Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/

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