We are all sinners. We are all sinned against. Remembering that helps me deal with the immense brokenness and dysfunction we see in many motel-dwellers. It helps me deal with everyone I meet and it helps me deal with me.

Take my friend Jerry.** It is easy to only see the wreckage that is his life. He lives most of the time on the street, making it into a motel once in awhile when a meager disability check comes in. He seems unable to get a job beyond occasionally showing up at a day-labor place. He admits that he has a drinking problem. I have seen him inebriated and it is a sad sight. His addiction makes it difficult to get a job and hold it. His life seems like a series of bad choices that leave him always destitute and often seeking comfort in a bottle. What is the path to change for Jerry?

If we only think of Jerry as a sinner, we would call him to repent and turn to Jesus. We would challenge him to make better choices; explaining to him that he is the only one responsible for the wreckage of his life and that only he, with the help of Jesus, can change that. We would practice tough love. There is a level of truth in this approach and at times it works. But there are also times it doesn’t work and can in fact make things worse.

Jerry being a sinner is only part of the story; he is also sinned against. He was sinned against as a small boy in a “Christian foster home” where he was sexually abused for two years. Any interaction with him needs to factor in that one devastating reality. His starting point is so different than most of us that just telling him he needs to repent, trust in Jesus and make better choices is not enough. He needs compassion and help in finding healing for a deep, deep wound. I expect there is more. I know he was military and suspect both PTSD issues and mental illness. Connect those realities with the absence of a loving family to help navigate difficulty, and you see the multiple ways he is sinned against.When I hear more of his story, I feel compassion. He drinks, at least in part, to numb the pain. Would my life be any different than his if I was dealt the same hand? I doubt it. When I try to love Jerry, I need to factor in those hard things that lead him to the destructive choices he makes right now. I need to see him as sinned against if I want to love and help him.

But again, there is a danger here. If I only see him as sinned against, I will feel like I should fix things for him and make so many allowances for his starting place that I coddle him and don’t ask him to be responsible for his life. That approach is demeaning and creates a dependency that prevents long-term, Jesus-honoring change.We often make a mess of dealing with people, both ourselves and others, because we focus on only one of these things. When we see people as sinners, we pound them with the truth and wonder why they won’t suck it up and change. When we see them as sinned against, we try to fix them without seeking deep healing and asking them to work on changing themselves. This path leads to a dependency that is ugly and destructive.

Jerry is a sinner; Jerry is sinned against. To truly love him, I need to remember both realities. He needs both truth-filled challenge and grace-filled compassion from me. Only the Holy Spirit can help me know when to lean in one direction and when to lean in the other. Like Jesus who came from the Father “full of grace and truth”, we start with grace and add in truth.We are all “Jerry”. 

We are, each one of us, both sinners and sinned against. We need to meet everyone, including our own self, with grace and truth. Jesus’ love for people always balanced grace and truth. So should ours. Pray for…Jerry that he would find grace and healing in Jesus and that he would take responsibility for his own life. Pray for so many we see like him. Pray for…yourself that you would love yourself and those you meet with grace and truth. Any hope of true change and healing for anyone lies there.

**Name changed to protect identity.