The refugees continue to be on my mind. And not in the kind of way I had hoped or wish I could share about. The urgency feels faint, probably because, if I’m honest, the shock has worn away a little. The story of a little boy washed up on a shore isn’t on the news anymore. It has been replaced with presidential candidates and celebrity break-ups. Yet the refugees aren’t far from my thoughts. But instead of praying for them every day, like I intended, I only prayed for them a few days, I’m ashamed to admit. I stopped asking Jesus what he wanted me to do after the first couple of days. I was sincere and well-intentioned for those days, upset and moved with compassion by the injustice of it all. And then a lack of intentionality led to forgetfulness. And here I am, back to my comfortable little life.
The only problem with this is that I’ve made a deal with Jesus. The deal is that he calls the shots. And no matter how much I fuss and whine over what he’s asking of me, I’m working on saying yes when he asks something of me. The deal is that I want to be like Abraham, who doesn’t know where he’s going but goes anyway. The deal is that Jesus is my teacher and I’m his student. And the student doesn’t decide what the assignments are or what ends up on the test. The teacher does that. Jesus is my teacher. The deal is that this is his story, not mine.
As I’ve been reading my Bible the past few weeks, I’ve had this sense of disequilibrium in my heart. I’m uncomfortable because I’m realizing that the things I care about aren’t always the things that Jesus cares about. Here’s what I’m seeing over and over again:
Jesus is crazy about sick people. He wants the diseased to touch him. He longs to give the kid a dad who doesn’t have one. He shows up to give the woman a husband who doesn’t have one anymore. He really wants to help poor people.
I was reading Psalm 68 the other day and was struck by this picture of who God is. I wrote in my margin that “this is the heart of our God.”
“Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.” (Psalm 68: 5-6, ESV) I also like how the Message puts this same section: “Father of orphans, champion of widows, is God in his holy house. God makes homes for the homeless, leads prisoners to freedom, but leaves rebels to rot in hell.”
The outcast. The lonely. The despised. The weirdos. The rejects. The hurt. These are his people. Not only is he okay with them, he goes looking for them. Seriously. Jesus goes out of his way to be with people who are a mess. I can’t get through much of the first four books of the New Testament without noticing this theme. It keeps showing up over and over again, because this is who Jesus is.
Who does Jesus have a problem with? The rule followers. The religious people. The ones who try to have it all together. The ones who talk about things instead of doing things.
Now, here’s why my discomfort is really kicking in.
When I was a little girl I used to automatically compare myself to the good guy in a Bible passage. I would insert myself into the role of the “hero” in any Bible story. I would see myself as Mary at Jesus’ feet, not Martha in the kitchen. I would see myself as Joseph, not as his jealous, selfish brothers. I would see myself as David, not as the fearful, cowering Israelites. But I got it wrong.
Despite the things I tell myself, I am the kind of person who has a hard time with what Jesus is asking.
I am busy in the kitchen. I’m Martha.
I am jealous and selfish. I’m Joseph’s brothers.
I am afraid and look to circumstances instead of who God is. I’m Israel and afraid.
I am the girl who wants this story to be about me, instead of about Jesus.
The reality of this scares me. I don’t want to be known for how good I looked. Jesus called Pharisees, “white washed tombs.” Those words ring in my ears as I scroll through Instagram or log onto Facebook. How much time do I spend on social media, projecting an image instead of spending time asking my teacher what he wants me to do?
The refugees haven’t gone away. The lonely are here. The poor are among us.
I can say whatever I like about welfare or the American dream or what I think about immigration. But the real question isn’t what I think about something. The question is what am I doing about it. Am I asking Jesus what he wants me to be doing? Am I asking Jesus who he wants me to love? What gets my time? My energy? I’m overwhelmed by how to help the refugees, but I so often stop there. Instead of asking Jesus what he wants me to do, I’m uncomfortable and I distract myself with technology. When I lay in bed at the end of the day, can I say I loved well?
And I think loving well might be praying for the refugees, pleading their case to the only one who can do anything about their plight. Sure, I’ve signed my name on a few petitions and I certainly don’t want to downplay the importance of doing tangible things. But there’s honestly not much opportunity for me to be directly involved in change for this particular group of hurting people in this moment other than prayer.
I think if I’m honest, I’m avoiding praying for these hurting, desperate people not because I don’t believe God can help them. I think I’m avoiding prayer because I simply don’t want to be uncomfortable. I don’t want to think about people locked in prison unjustly or who are going without basics or who have no other hope than a dangerous venture into the sea. And if I’m truly, brutally transparent, I don’t want to pray because I don’t want to risk Jesus asking me to do one more thing that is painful or hard.
But I think my teacher is asking me to. I think my teacher is telling me that this part of our deal. I can’t just write about refugees and forget about them. I can’t just say a prayer and move on. His heart beats for people who are lost and hurting. I can say whatever I want, but my actions are what weigh into eternity.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
“Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.” (Matthew 25: 35-46, the Message)
This story that Jesus tells is sobering. I’m trembling as I write this. I know my heart’s propensity for control and comfort. I want to know what I’m signing up for. I want to know where earnest prayers will take me and what I’m giving up before I commit. I want to be a sheep without too much discomfort. I want to be avoid being a goat without it costing me too much. I want to know what Jesus will ask of me.
But Jesus doesn’t work like that. I learn by doing. What I know doesn’t count for much until I’m putting it into practice. What I know in my head doesn’t matter much when we look at what Jesus says about eternity. Do I love the overlooked and ignored person in front of me? That’s what matters.
So, practically, what does this mean? [exhale] Yikes. I hesitate to write anything since my legs shake beneath me. I may be the worst person to say anything based on my track record. But I’ll give it a shot. I don’t have all the answers or even all the conviction to back them up. I just have what my teacher is telling me. And here’s what I think he’s telling me it means today:
It means I’m putting a post-it note in my Bible reminding myself to pray for the refugees. And really pray and plead for them, not just saying words that my heart isn’t in, to make myself feel better. It means I’m going to try to remember to make “dinner prep time” my prompt to pray for people who are hurting. It means I’m asking Jesus to help me see others as his “favorites” not just myself as his “favorite.” It means I’m asking Jesus to change me, to make me into someone who doesn’t ask what they’re giving up, but who asks what the Father’s heart beats for. It means I’m asking Jesus to help me see people, not as my problem, but as his precious girl or boy. It means naming that I am weak and unwilling and reluctant, because I am. It means pleading with him to not let me stay that way. It means showing up and asking every day if what I’m doing what my teacher wants. It means saying I’m sorry and meaning it on the days I fail to do it.
And here’s the beautiful thing: (imagine I’m cupping my fingers around your ear to whisper this delicious secret to you) I don’t have to be able to fix or solve anything. I can’t even change my own heart to make it care for other people. The beautiful thing is that by giving everything up, by caring more about the heart of God and hurting people than my own comfort, I actually get to be saved in the process. I get to be saved because this is who I was meant to be. I wasn’t meant for a tiny, self-absorbed story. I was meant to be part of his story. And I think asking Jesus to help me care about refugees is part of it.
“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?” Mark 8:34-37 (the Message)