I ask her to look me in the eyes and she says, “I can’t.” She looks down and to the left, avoiding eye contact.We are separated by a greasy chain-link fence. I’m in the parking lot of the Radiant, she in the back alley. The top of the fence is greased, a strategy of the manager to keep people from jumping it. Trouble traffics over that fence. When I see Jenny,** my face brightens and I call her name. I hadn’t seen her for awhile and was concerned. I have felt a connection with her since we first met. I ask how she is and she mumbles something about not doing well. That is when I ask her to look into my eyes.
I met Jenny at about half past five one morning. She was passing outside our room at the Ranger. Most mornings I sit there, curtain opened to the sliding glass door, praying and reading Scripture. The view of Colfax Avenue focuses my prayers. She walked by and stopped, surprised to see me. I slid open the door and we talked. She had been in a room for the night, but some fight had got her tossed. I reached for her hand, but she pulled it back saying she had hurt it; no doubt part of the altercation.I got some of her story—originally from the south, she had no family here, clearly adrift. I didn’t ask details but my guess was that she was caught in the vortex of drugs and sex that often veers violent.I share why we’re in Room 36, that we feel called to be present and love people in the name of Jesus. She welcomes my prayer. I give her my card, and she heads off into the early morning sun.
I immediately liked her; she’s roughly my daughter’s age and seems honest and kind. I run into her periodically. We always hug and I ask how she is. Sometimes better, sometimes worse. She never shares details and I don’t push. Tonight, though, she seems despondent, worse than I have seen.Internally, I guess as to why she can’t look me in the eyes: She fears that she will see condemnation, even disgust with how she is living. Caught in a spiral of bad choices, she believes my eyes will only confirm her worst fears.I represent someone—maybe her parents or a pastor she once knew, and she fears my disgust at her self-imposed wreckage.
Or maybe, I represent Jesus. I sense she knows of Jesus and His people. Bad enough to see condemnation in human eyes. How much worse in the eyes of Jesus? Is that why she averts her eyes? I imagine that it is Jesus, seeing her over the fence, looking at her, asking Jenny to look into His eyes. Had she the courage to do that, what would she see? Would it be the condemnation she fears? For over 40 years, I have been haunted by the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. I see her, disheveled, half-dressed, smelling of sex. I see her accusers, judging her, baiting Jesus. And I imagine Jesus’ eyes fixed on her. What look was in those eyes? Does she too refuse to look into Jesus’ eyes? Does she too expect to see disgust and condemnation? No doubt she fears that Jesus’ eyes will confirm the worst she feels about herself.
The story is clear: After the accusers leave, Jesus makes sure she hears one message from Him. He does not condemn her, no matter the current mess of her life. Is this the moment when she finally finds courage to look into those eyes, the eyes of He who created her, the eyes of He who knows her fully?Immense love, radical grace, infinite patience; that, I believe, is what she sees in the eyes of Jesus. He calls her to change, yes, but only after fixing her with His eternal gaze of love, one that is condemnation-free.I am no Jesus, but I know this: I genuinely love Jenny; I pray for her and worry about her. Just now, my heart feels both delight in seeing her and deep pain for her struggle. I show love as best I can, pairing condemnation-free acceptance with a gentle nudge towards change. I pray that my eyes on her are the eyes of Jesus.We link fingers through the chainlink fence, avoiding the greasy top. I pray down as much grace as I can. I get a bit of a brief look, and she heads off to rejoin some friends. My eyes follow Jenny, the eyes, I hope, of Jesus.**Name changed to protect identity.