I did something very foolish at the weekend. To cut it down only to the most relevant details, I did what you're always told not to do and let someone stay in my house because it seemed uncomplicated. I have a ridiculously large house with only me in it, and here was a person who seemed to need peace and security for a while. I even thought it might do me good spiritually.
She turned out to need more than that, and it wasn't uncomplicated. She never caused direct trouble - in fact, was ingratiating - but wasn't telling me the truth, at least, not all of it - for instance, that the rector of Hornington had already paid for her to stay in a B&B the previous week. I was out on Monday (it's my week off) and was increasingly frantic all day with the knowledge that my house was no longer a place of safety for me and I would have to confront my guest in the evening. I did this, and said we'd have to look for alternative accommodation the next day. This was the cue for denials, pleading, questioning. Given what's happened the last few weeks, I underestimated my own fragile mental state and couldn't cope, and fled. I returned to get a bag and go to stay with friends in Lamford, all the while with my guest calling 'Don't do this, let me make you tea, let's pray about this'.
Luckily one of these friends, who counsels me from time to time, has a lot of experience of dealing with homelessness issues and came with me the following morning. We tried to find accommodation for my guest, whose answers to questions were evasive and vague. We tried to get her in at the YMCA locally, who refused when they heard the name, while a local guest house where she'd stayed before very clearly tried to work out by questioning who she was. She refused to deal with any of the statutory housing agencies, and became positively hysterical when my friend was about to call the HOST team. In the end we basically dumped her in Hornington with a bit of money. She called me over the remainder of the day using a variety of different numbers, though that seems to have stopped.
I'm bitterly ashamed of myself for so many reasons in this: for having been so stupid in the first place, for breaking down and dragging my friends into the business (even Il Rettore was summoned for moral support), for having not realised how weak my mind is at the moment. I thought it would be all right. Perhaps for a different person it would have been.
I don't know what's happened to the woman. Of course all my friends are predictably sympathetic (though Cylene the Goth didn't think there was anything prima facie wrong with someone being in my house, as she's done the same), but the essence is that I've pushed on to the streets somebody who is in need even if they're not completely truthful or open, because I couldn't cope. Nevertheless it's clear I can't. I've always been haunted by the possibility of it being incumbent on me to take people in to my home, even before I was ordained; when I lived in Chatham I did let one of my neighbours' adopted son stay in the flat one night and it was one of the hardest things I ever did. Now I know I can't do it. Some can, but not me, no matter how big my house happens to be.
You can't rest content with your incapacities in the Christian life, it's true: you always have to accept and investigate the possibility that God wants you out of your comfort zone. If there is something we have a particular ability in, something we're good at, perhaps something we haven't yet discovered, that can help others, we do indeed have a duty to pursue it to the hazard of our health and welfare. But that doesn't mean going against the fundamental tenor of our individual nature. If we have a particular vocation God will make it known to us; conversely, breaking down and having to seek help to resolve a mess we've caused is surely a clear enough sign that we shouldn't be doing that thing after all.