I learned something about myself recently – something unexpected and humbling.

I stink.

One Saturday night, I found myself at Union Gospel Mission as our church led worship before the evening meal was served to the area’s homeless. I came prepared to bless and encourage the men and women who walked through the door.

But as they filed into the chapel, I quickly became aware of their stench, struggling to cope with the aromas assailing my nostrils while being as "welcoming" as possible. The obvious presence of alcohol, smoke, body odour and other unidentifiable scents overwhelmed me, but I did my "Christian duty" regardless . . . all the while thinking, They stink!

As the songs of praise and worship filled the chapel, I found a seat towards the back and surveyed the room. The people were quiet: some listening, others reading a newspaper or staring blankly at the walls. These folks had come not for God, but for food.

I was struck at how out of place I must have seemed to these people. Dressed comfortably in clothes that were clean, hair well-kept and face washed, I sat and sang songs of God’s love and grace . . . when it hit me: They’re not the ones who stink. I am.

Would I have given these people a second glance if I’d passed them on the street? Were not my thoughts and disgust at their stench more putrid than their physical uncleanliness? And what about my motivations for being there? Why were we even taking pictures of the event, if not to go back to the comfort of our clean church and show what we did for God?

In that moment, I realized just how distasteful and unclean my attitude was in God’s eyes. These were His people, the people Jesus ate and communed with when He was on this earth. And I was just as lost and unclean and in need of salvation as they were! If anything, my own stench offended them and God.

I spent the rest of our time there as the one being ministered to. I took time that night to shake hands with, talk with, and silently pray for these people, whom God loved. And after I was overwhelmed by the beauty of their aroma to God, I went home more thankful for God’s love and grace – a grace I clearly didn’t deserve – than ever before.

Shari Lau served on the Care Ministries team for Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

© 2007 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox