The three men stood elbow to elbow to demonstrate how closely the sleeping mats are spaced at the Presbyterian Night Shelter. “Sometimes they roll over and throw their arm across you,” said one man, and the others nodded in agreement. “You have to put your shoes under your head or they’ll steal them.”
It was 9PM on a Tuesday and we had stepped outside for a last smoke break after finishing a cutthroat Scrabble game. In the Parish Hall, most of the other guests were asleep already, or were reading or talking quietly on their mattresses. One man was snoring, and a couple of others were coughing occasionally – but despite the noise, it would be the best night’s sleep many of our guests would get that week.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying
heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
Paradoxically, it would be the worst night’s sleep I would get that week. I would struggle to get comfortable sleeping fully clothed. I would hear every crash of the icemaker in the kitchen and every footfall as one man after another trekked across the vast tiled floor to go to the restroom. In contrast to bed, warmth, familiarity, privacy and ease, a mattress on the floor of the Parish Hall would be uncomfortable and exposed.
It’s mind-bending to realize what a restful experience it is for our guests at Room In The Inn, in contrast to the crowded, noisy conditions of the shelter. For us hosts, it is anxiety and commotion, but for them it is peace and safety. It is a stark role reversal when you give up a night’s sleep so that these road-weary travelers can have some respite. You can look forward to a tough day at work — to spending a long afternoon struggling not to doze off at your desk. In exchange, fifteen homeless men can face their daily struggle renewed by a decent night’s sleep.
Some of the most rewarding Room In The Inn moments come in the mornings when you ask, “did you sleep ok?” and a light breaks across the man’s face as he replies, “oh, yes!”
Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.