God of the Streets

The Spirituality of Homelessness Means Giving Up Control

There is a God on the streets. And a faith more genuine than the one we perceive the crazy street evangelists to be talking about.

The spirituality of the homeless
The spirituality of the homeless isn’t necessarily different from anyone else’s. It can’t be put into a neat summary.

It is different from mine—that’s what I notice. It’s different mostly because…

  • it’s developed and supported despite experiences and circumstances that have landed people on the streets,

  • its a spirituality stripped down and genuine because the streets take material possessions away,

  • and, often times, it’s a spirituality of recovery as many are recovering addicts, and they’ve had no choice but to give up control and believe in the grace of their Higher Power.

Where are you, God?
After I’ve heard a particularly gruesome life story of abuse, abandonment, addiction, unfairness, and violence, my faith in a loving God is challenged: I want to take control and fix the situation. What does the Divine know anyway?

While I stew and philosophically ponder the evil in the world, James tells me he is thankful to be where he’s at. “For a long time, I accused God of not answering my prayers because they were not immediately answered. Finally, when I was hungry, I had no where to lay my head because of pride, and I was walking in the same places where many of my friends were killed, I woke up. Only something greater than myself can restore me with persistent love because I’m sick of this and I’m going to need some help getting back on my feet.”

I take notes.

Stripping down
I ask, “How are you doing today, Peter?”

“Well, I woke up this morning so I’d say that I’m pretty good.”

Many times, I’ve associated blessings with being favored by God because of success, material things, and being financially comfortable. I ask myself, “Why do I have what I have when someone else has so little?”

But I have it all wrong. A blessing for Peter is making it through the day, supported by his faith in God because he literally has nothing left except the clothes on his back (and a wallet overstuffed with tattered pieces of paper).

Jesus challenged his disciples to give up everything they had and follow him—not so they would suffer, but so their relationship with God could be genuine. The homeless don’t necessarily choose to give up everything they have; their situation usually forces it.

Recovery is a miracle
I want to oohh and aahh over the spirituality of addiction recovery. This is a typical scenario: a man hits bottom. He loses his wife and kids, sells his house, pawns his car, lives in a hotel for a while, and finally ends up on the streets, addicted to crack. Sometimes this cycle happens once and sometimes it happens nine times.

The cycle stops when the man surrenders control, admits he is powerless over the addiction, and starts believing in his higher power. But to oohh and aahh, that turns this into another “success story,” and it disguises the harsh reality of addiction and the loving grace of God in recovery.

Recovery is not a success story. It’s a miracle.

Control and the God of homelessness
I do not understand the spirituality of homelessness, not because I am not homeless, or in recovery, but because nothing in my life has forced me to get real and honest enough with myself to relinquish that much control.

As John put it, “I’ve relapsed before because I wasn’t spiritually fit to exist in a world I’ve escaped from for 17 years. I’m ready to get honest this time.”