Another horrific headline screams bad news this morning. More than 50 souls and counting lost their lives to the evil actions of a domestic terrorist armed with a stash of assault weapons. As I write these words, the injured count from this incident in Las Vegas is past 400. The ground in this country is saturated with the blood of victims claimed by mass shootings.
We in America have experienced an onslaught of unimaginable devastation recently: Within less than a three-week span, Hurricanes Irma, Jose, and Maria upended thousands of lives. Puerto Rico is experiencing an unimaginable humanitarian crisis at this moment in the wake of Maria’s destruction.
Lives ended. Countless others changed forever. Trauma unleashed on thousands of spouses, parents, children, friends of the victims. And for those of us not directly connected to those lost or suffering, we stare at the screens bringing us news of new mayhem and cycle between horror, revulsion, sorrow, confusion, anger, despair, and hopelessness.
Church, what are we to do?
And more importantly, who are we to be?
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)
I know a few believers who’ve built emotional arks for themselves in order to insulate themselves and perhaps their families from the horrors of this birthpang-wrenched world. They have either adopted hyper-spiritual language of separation from the culture around them in order to pursue holiness or they claim proper self-care exempts them from any sort of emotional engagement. While I understand those desires, I recognize that either of those rationales for me become sophisticated window-dressing on my own selfishness.
I know others who burn like bonfires in caring for others. They give off beautiful light that reflects the sacrificial love of God in its purest form. Yet, the ugly reality activists discover at some point is that they can’t keep their finger in the hole in the dike indefinitely. They can’t save everyone. And they can’t change anyone except themselves. The temptation for hero-rescuers is emotional fatigue or collapse.
Whether we’re on the front lines or whether we’re absorbing the news from afar, Paul’s words in Galatians 6:9-10 are our marching orders. God is not asking us to hide from the world in order to save our souls. Nor is he asking us to burn out as we attempt to fix the world. When Paul exhorted his friends not to grow weary, it is precisely because they were growing exhausted by the world around them.
So how do we avoid becoming weary in doing good?
- Recognize there are no loopholes. Just because some people in your life are mean, stupid, or sinful doesn’t give you a hall pass that exempts you from responsibility to honor God by caring for others the way you care for yourself.
- Recognize there is no extra credit. There are seasons and events that will require extra involvement from you, but you are not earning brownie points with God for doing so.
- Remember that it is not your job to save the world. Jewish people have drawn from the Talmud the notion of tikkun olam, (repairing the world). As believers, we can recognize in the notion of tikkun olam the truth that we have been privileged to participate in his Story – a story that is bigger than any one of us. None of us are the star of that Story.
- Remind ourselves that crisis is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.
- Give space for lament. Lots of space. Evangelicals, especially, historically stink at lament. We are the people of upbeat worship music and are known for sermon series that (over-)promise to fix our lives. In some cases, this is nothing more than a socially-acceptable form of spiritual lukewarmness. We honor God best when we tell the truth about our confusion, anger, and grief without insisting on a self-medicating a “happily-ever-after” conclusion on our words and songs.
- Pray. We position ourselves to join what God is already doing as we do.
- Take care of each other. Paul adds the words “…especially to those who belong to the family of believers” to his instructions. Our care for each other is not a terminal point. It is how we maintain health so we can continue to do what only the Church can do in this world.
What else would you add to this list?