This past summer was my third trip to El Hogar, and even though I’ve gone several times, each year my experience has been different. Although there have been many special moments for me at El Hogar, there is one moment from my most recent trip that I feel compelled to share with you all today.
As usual, the week flew by and before I knew it I found myself on the last day saying tearful goodbyes to all the children who I had come to love even more. I had said my last goodbye and was turning to head back to the van when I felt someone pull on my shirt. An unfamiliar little boy with deep brown eyes looked up at me. When he didn’t say anything I knelt down in front of him so I was at eye level with him. He leaned into me and gave me a hug that emanated both gentleness and desperation. I patted his back and told him I was sad to leave but I would see him next year. When he didn’t let go and buried his face further into my shoulder I was struck with both empathy and confusion. I hadn’t talked to this boy all week and was puzzled as to why he was giving me such a heartfelt goodbye when we were practically strangers. I gently pulled the boy out of our embrace and looked into his eyes which were heavy with sadness. “?Necesitas amor?” I asked the boy softly. Translated, this means: Do you need love? He responded by burying his face in my shirt once again and I felt him nod his head slowly.
While I was writing this sermon, this is the point where I kept getting stuck. Even after months of reflecting on this story, I have yet to accurately articulate what it meant to me. Words don’t seem to do it justice, but because this is a sermon, words are really the only tools I have to use.
I can only describe it as a moment of complete honesty and vulnerability. I felt as if something was tugging at my heart. There we were, two strangers, holding each other like the world was about to end. In that moment we made a connection of security, love, compassion, and acceptance. And it’s these moments that make people feel connected and alive. It is these moments that act as food for our souls.
I was struck by this child’s wisdom and strength. He was brave enough to admit that he needed love, which is something that many people are too proud to admit, even though it is such a basic human necessity. Many people are so afraid of asking for help, or admitting that they need love. Why is this? Is it that we are fearful of seeming weak? That we are ashamed that we cannot do everything on our own? By pretending that we don’t need each other’s love we create an illusion that we can function without human connection. And the truth is—we can’t. The greatest gift that can be given or received is the gift of loving connection. Communities and relationships are what keep people alive and passionate and driven. And everybody has something to give and room in their hearts to receive.
And so I challenge us all to take a lesson from this young boy—to not be afraid to admit when we need love. I challenge us all to be brave like him, to make ourselves vulnerable, and to love unconditionally. Amen.