Reflections on rough sleepers

Years ago, for several months, I lived in a bed-and-breakfast Monday-Friday. Working away. Family living in last-job place before all of us moved to new-job place.

One Sunday night the b&b owners were away. I had two keys: one to the house and one to my room.  Just me in this big empty house.  Except a couple had already slept in my bed and used my pillow and used my sheets and my duvet and then left. That’s what happens in a b&b.

And here I was.  Just me and a slept-in bed. Maybe a made-love-in bed. Maybe a some-other-bodily-fluids-yucky bed. Now my bed that Sunday night with nowhere else to go.  The following day I found another b&b.

Did I tell you that I slept with a man this weekend?  Never did find out his name.  Just that he snores.

Night Shelter.  25 for dinner and hot drinks. 15 stopping overnight. Our church’s turn. Once a month for four months. Prepare cook and serve. Welcome chat and respond. Set-out tidy-up and bed-down. Wake them up feed them breakfast and wave them on their way.  It happens in churches here every night during December-March.  Last night it was minus three centigrade. Last night it was a Methodist church. Tonight it is a Baptist church. Tomorrow night it is another denomination.  Rough sleepers can’t be too picky about denomination.

Four of us stayed overnight with our guests.  New fold-out camp beds. Very popular with the guests. Fourteen on frame beds, and just one on the usual thin foam mattress. Each with a sleeping bag and pillow (enclosed in a plastic liner for hygiene).

And as we bedded down, I swapped my sleeping bag with another volunteer. The shape of theirs wasn’t to their liking. We both grimaced as she found a discarded woolen sock at the bottom left by a previous occupant. That’s when it suddenly hit me  – I was going to be sleeping in a sleeping bag that had had many previous rough sleeper occupants!

I began to scratch.

Which was how I found myself in the same room as our snoring rough sleeper.  Both of us snorers.  Me lying on top of my borrowed sleeping bag.  Me convincing myself it was not cold.  Except that when I woke up a while later it was.  It was very cold.  So Paul … hypothermia or bed bugs … ?

I calculated that if I lay inside (but only up to my waist) that I should be ok.  Not too many bugs (and warm enough to sleep). And then I found a discarded wooly sock in the bottom of my sleeping bag …

I kept scratching.

And something else …

Did I tell you that I found out last night what “not of this world but in it” REALLY means?

It means that I can squirm every minute of every hour trying to be “not of this sleeping bag but in it” – I can consciously keep my legs scrunched up and as far away as possible from the bottom – it means I can imagine all sorts of bed bugs and bodily fluids – all manner of infectious bodily of this world yucky-stuff.

But at some point I will “fall asleep” (become distracted) and wake to find my “spiritual back” is freezing and my “spiritual arms” are freezing and my “spiritual feet” have been sleeping peacefully right “down there” in all that infectious yucky-stuff “things”.  It means that I can tell myself all I like that I am “not of this world but in it” – all I will achieve is a rotten night’s sleep and a strong desire for a very hot, long, shower.

And I learned something else …

That if I have to actually live your life (even for a few short hours) then I lose all confidence in anything but your bed-bugs (and which bits of me they are eating). That even if I am wise and bring my own sleeping bag (as one volunteer did) I am not actually living your life – I am simply insulating myself from your living.

And then the realisation of what it actually means when we say that Jesus lives my life all day and every day …

That God Soft Hands Jesus really does live with His feet in my “infectious yucky-stuff bed bug things”.  That GSHJ lives my life with no insulation from my living.  That God Jesus is not keeping His distance from my yucky bits – not pulling on my life only “up to His waist” – but He is living every bit of my living and loving it all.

While I pretend to live yours.

Now who would have thought that a “rough sleeper” could have taught me so much in just one short night.

Maybe God is actually living in both of us – in all of us.

(if we allow)