As we face more disasters and losses than we can process, in our world and our own hearts, it can be easy to lose hope. Renewed turmoil in Afghanistan, more fires than we can count, hurricanes ripping roofs off our sister churches in Louisiana, floods, a tsunami of oppressive and unjust legislation imposed by our state leaders…
Oh, yeah…and a pandemic raging through a 4th surge that was entirely preventable if our conservative siblings in this country could care more for their neighbor than the rights some leaders are manipulating them into believing are under attack. How are we to understand the political architects of this frenzy of selfish, dangerous, and cruel behavior that puts us all, especially our young, at risk, so desperate are they to whip up votes and maintain power?
As I shared with you, recently, I took a pretty big dip after holding space with one too many traumatized clients in healthcare feeling overwhelmed and betrayed by their unvaccinated and unmasked leaders, neighbors, friends, and family. I grew weary of patching them up just to send them back into the path of not-so-friendly fire—a virus is one thing; willful ignorance fueled by political greed and corruption is another.
How long, oh Lord? How long?
So, I’ve been sitting—on rocks next to streams, in mountains, in the desert, and in a rocking chair on the porch of a ranch in the Hill Country, alone and quiet. I’ve been almost completely off social media and abstaining from media. As my friend, Rose, often says, “I don’t have the level of sanity and serenity necessary for this situation”, and then she leaves until she does have what is needed to cope.
I reached my limit and had to have a break. I’ll be taking more this fall, so I can continue doing good in the world rather than add to the dysfunction by doing nothing more than grousing and bitterly complaining, or debating and venting and ranting, or shaking my head in disgust and shutting down, or simply turning away out of overwhelm. None of that is helpful, to others or to me. In fact, it makes me part of the problem.
To be part of the solution, I need to find ways to make renewed sense of a world where people can willingly act in ways that harm and oppress others. It does not compute for me and goes against how I believed, and still want to believe, the world to be.
Part of the trauma we are experiencing is existential, in that our fundamental beliefs about and belief in people, and who we believe them to be, have been shaken. “I’ve lost my faith in humanity, and don’t know how to get it back” is a phrase I’ve heard repeatedly, and finally uttered.
James Fowler in his “Stages of Faith” found that when our beliefs about the world are shattered by our experiences, we feel shipwrecked, floundering, with no solid place to stand because the foundational beliefs on which we rely to give us meaning and purpose, security and identity, have been challenged.
We then do one of two things, according to Fowler; we more deeply entrench in our previous beliefs and find ways to harden and double-down in our smaller, more cut and dried, conservative views or we soften and open up to see more grey areas, finding a new and less rigid belief on which to stand.
I do not claim to have all the answers. I will never assume to know what new ways of making meaning will speak to your heart. For me, here is what I believe:
People are basically good…and can regularly be counted on to do what we feel we need to do to care for ourselves when afraid. When we feel secure enough—within ourselves, our community, and something greater than ourselves—we can pause long enough to consider the impact of our actions on others and find a better way. When we cannot find that safe space that lets us pause, we are capable of great evil.
I do not mean to be simplistic or reductionistic. I do not intend to make excuses. I simply need a solid place to stand that allows me to remember that evil is not the whole story, that no person is one thing, and that I am just as capable of inflicting harm as are others when I do not remember whose I am.
My friends, we are a resurrection people.
We claim to believe in a God who hovered lovingly over the waters of chaos and transformed it into something life-giving and who stands in the midst of the storm with us, whispering answers to our questions that we will learn to hear, in time.
We profess a God who knows our suffering, cares for it, and can work in and through and with us to bring about healing and a greater good out of even the most tragic of circumstances.
We confess that we are not immune to human frailty and can be just as culpable, if only silently so, in acts of harm to our neighbors and this world.
We speak of a God who is still speaking, who has not yet told us the rest of the story, who has a bigger imagination than we do and who can find a way out of no way.
Can we find it in ourselves to mean all of that, once again? Can we build and deepen our faith muscles to be able to trust God further than we ever have before, not as an act of benign resignation but as a form of intentional hope that spurs us to act, and to act differently?
Now, more than ever, the world needs holders of hope, champions of justice who can speak truth to power and yet can do so in a way that brings about more healing rather than greater division.
So when my righteous indignation turns to self-righteousness, when my compassion for the oppressed leads me to lose my empathy for the oppressor who is just as much a victim of the unjust system that enslaves them both, when my sense of helplessness finally overwhelms me and leads me to lash out and commit assassinations of character and verbal violence, I pause.
I ask God for renewed vision, for greater healing, for the wisdom to know when and how and to what to respond and when to wait for God’s miracles to unfold in time as an act of faithfully holding space, not apathy.
We cannot tend to all the needs around us; we’re not designed to be able to. We do what God puts in front of us and gives us the energy and the resources to do something about. We must not become so overwhelmed by the enormity of need that we do nothing, but we also will not succeed if we try to do everything.
I’m finding my center, again. I’ve grieved the loss of what I once believed and wanted to believe. And I’ve been reminded, away from the click-bait of extreme voices that are more likely to get ratings, that there is still FAR more good in this world than evil; there are far more people who are vaccinated in this country than not; just as fear is ruling us at times, we are also finding our better selves as we seek new ways to connect and care and evolve.
My mentor regularly reminds me that emotional intelligence is about both/and, acknowledging that the seemingly bad is only part of the story and that there is also good in the world.
Neuroscience tells us we change the chemistry in our brains and bodies when we practice gratitude, which slows our heartrate, eases anxiety, soothes depression, protects our bodies from damage, and literally opens our minds and ears to recognize greater and more adaptive possibilities that are present around us.
May we pause, may we open, may we listen to the voice of God who calls us to a faith that can not just weather the storm, but transform and be transformed by it.
Practice gratitude. Moderate how much angst from media you take in. Seek voices of hope from people who are doing good in the world. Do one small thing each day—write one letter, make one phone call, put up one sign, donate to one cause—to make a difference.
The story is not over. God isn’t through with us, yet. And thanks be to God, we know that the end of the story will always be greater love, renewed life, and restored peace. May we live into and co-create that kin-dom, even now.