In the old CBS series, The Equalizer, the show’s protagonist, Robert McCall spoke of his father like this: “The strongest man I ever knew had an iron will and a broken heart.”
Most people think that holding people accountable for their actions, i.e., having a universal standard of discipline, leads to, or actually means coldness. Dealing with things in terms of black and white is, in the opinion of most, unfeeling, unfair, and inevitably, harsh. When people don’t follow our problem solving directives, before long we become frustrated and may become willing to fix the problem by any means: forced sterilization, internment camps, or pogroms are examples of some of the solutions tried by leaders who may have started out with good intentions, but eventually let their frustration make their decisions for them.
Of course, we’re not talking about totalitarian government or nations. We’re talking about good old Fresno County. But the frustration is the same. It’s hard to believe what we can find in our town any night of the week. There’s a crisis. Never mind what crisis- it’s here in our town. There are people starving to death in Fresno. There are people choosing to sleep on the streets rather than go to their home- or find a home. Worse, there are people in Fresno who can’t find a home. There are people living in absolute squalor here- the population Habitat is here to help- and the level of their squalor is absolutely mind-boggling.
This is our town. This is the place we call home. And just a few miles from any of our houses we can find people paying rent- big rent- to occupy a room or apartment or house that we would be afraid to enter without some penicillin handy.
It’s enough to make you furious. At Habitat, we hold that “Everybody deserves a decent place to live.” That’s our standard: decent. Not fancy, not new, not roomy- just decent. A house with a dry floor, a bathroom that works, wiring that is safe, dependable environmental controls that heat and cool when needed, ceilings and walls without dangerous mold, and doors and windows that can be closed to keep people warm or cool and locked to keep them safe.
That’s the minimum. So when we see a family in squalor, it’s not unusual for us to become furious- furious at the landlord who “provides” the squalor, at the economy that prevents anyone from climbing out of the squalor, and the culture that allows the squalor to exist. And then we want to take control and jerk the family out of the mess (which can be humiliating to them- they are already ashamed of their situation), or punish the perpetrator, or scream at someone who we think can fix the problem to DO SOMETHING!!!!!!
And when the problems persist, or we find the next one if we manage to see the first one we found solved, we lose heart. We become cynical or bitter. We cross our arms and preach to anyone who will listen that no one cares. We decide that the government is a sham, that churches are all full of hypocrites, and that the whole world is going to hell. Or we curl up in a ball and withdraw from everything so we don’t have to see it anymore.
And there’s no cure for that. Although… there is a trade.
God, through His prophet Ezekiel, told the bitter, hard-hearted Israelites who were exiled in Babylon, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ezekiel 36:26).
What’s the trade? Well, it’s not soft-heartedness. That’s what led to the cynicism. We went out to fight without enough callouses on our knuckles or tough-mindedness.
No, it’s what Robert McCall said: “A will of iron (our standard) AND a broken heart.” Tender hearts are made to be broken. That’s the word you could use to summarize Jesus’ heart when he saw the wandering sheep of Israel: broken.
A strong will and a broken, passionate, forgiving heart (even of the landlords) is the cure. Side by side. Strength and brokenness. That doesn’t seem very logical. To quote Bugs Bunny, “IT JUST DON’T ADD UP!”
On the other hand, the One Who invented math probably knows a few ways of looking at the numbers that do add up. He just loves, because that's who He Is (Love).
Maintaining an iron will next to a broken heart is the necessary attitude match for us here at Habitat for Humanity of Fresno County. If you’re willing to do that kind of addition- and serve your community- why don’t you give us a call? We’ll take you with us while we work.