I love buses. I genuinely do. I love the fact that living in London means I can hop on a bus and get pretty much anywhere for an incredibly decent price. I love the vibes you get on buses - the snippets of conversations you hear, the random people who get up and start preaching, or shout at you to move down inside the bus.
I have often confided in people (generally those who I'm ok looking like a geek in front of) that I would love to conduct a study into demographics on different bus routes and compare on a double-decker bus who sits where...like would a 60 year-old black woman choose to sit in the same place 15 year-old white boy. I know that sounds really sad, but it's something that interests me.
Today as I was on the bus a man came and sat next to me. He looked pretty normal...but he smelt. He smelt pretty bad - BO and urine mix. And to be honest I was disgusted. I was trying to do the thing where you keep the same face but try to breathe through your mouth...and failing.
And then I was hit by a wave of guilt for not "loving" the smelly man. God calls us to love everyone, especially those on the edge of society. But how could I?! I mean I could barely breathe next to him, let alone love him. I wanted to be able to love him and be totally accepting, however...I didn't.
So I got off at my stop breathing a fresh sigh of relief and carried on my day not thinking too much of it.
But as the day has worn on I've been struck by something. I work with young people and some of them stink. If it's not adolescent BO, it's the putrid smell of weed, or just general dirtiness. But I do love them. I will gladly sit next to them and (appropriately) hug them; I'll chat to them about their lives and help them when I can.
So what is the difference between the kids I work with and the random stinky people on the bus? Well I know them, I have relationship and history with them. I know a bit about their homes and essentially I cut them slack. Sometimes that's because I know they're from a dysfunctional family and haven't necessarily been taught the joys of showering. Sometimes it's because their water has been cut off or they don't have access to a washing machine. Sometimes everyone in their family is smoking cannabis so there is no way they can escape the smell that lingers with it. I guess I can see past the smell. And to be honest sometimes it's still hard with them...I thank God that he does give me strength to invest in those relationships.
I think God has challenged me about how I view smelly people. For all I know these people might not have access to washing facilities and so they can't help it. Who knows maybe they were once a kid who was never taught about it. But whatever it is there is a story to them. They have a background and a context which they fit into, that no doubt explains why they are the way they are.
I guess next time I come into contact with someone who's personal hygiene could do with some work I'm going to try and remember that there is a bigger picture. That there are probably a load of circumstances that have brought that person to this point in this state.
I don't want to dismiss people just because of their outward demeanor - there is clearly far more to them. Would God help me have his heart for his people.
"For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7