I feel so often caught off guard by hardships and suffering. This week I learned that a dear friend’s mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Another friend’s dad was sent home from the hospital on hospice care. If your facebook feed looks anything mine has in the past weeks, it is littered with sentiments about refugees, fears of terrorists living next door and French flags. As I’ve looked at the photos and seen the painful realities of what our world faces, my heart aches. The world feels like it’s reeling from the attacks on Paris, with accusations and fear flying. There are no easy solutions and I’m honestly overwhelmed.
I was sitting with Jesus this past week and was reading John. I read this verse and couldn’t help but notice something I hadn’t before. I am promised trouble. Jesus himself says it. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) I think I tend to jump to the end of the verse about overcoming and taking heart, forgetting that there is something to overcome, something that threatens peace, something only Jesus can help with. I shouldn’t be surprised when trouble comes. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t grieve it.
This isn’t the way the world was meant to be.
As I think about the trouble I am promised, my prayer is that I wouldn’t look to what hardship is at my doorstep or what evil is rampant or how scared that makes me. My prayer is that I would look to Jesus and ask him what he would have me to do today. Not what my neighbor should do, but he would have me do. I’m only responsible for me. I don’t want to act out of fear of what may come. I desperately want my heart to respond with courage, out of love.
But what does that even look like? The problems and gravity of what is true for our hurting world seem beyond anything that I could help with. My life feels especially small these days. I stay at home with my daughter. I make food. I clean up messes. I do laundry. I write. I lead a small group of girls at youth group. What does it look like for me to respond with love?
I read Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker recently. I wasn’t surprised to find some things that my heart cringed a bit to hear. If the title of the book mentions Jesus wrecking her comfort, I shouldn’t be surprised to find mine just a bit wrecked too. I’ll admit, it is hard to see how many American values I believe in that don’t actually represent the gospel I claim to be working towards. Here’s some of what stood out to me. [Warning: you may feel uncomfortable too. Read at your own risk.]
“With the resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of humanity, we are no longer identified by nation, race, gender, or any group dynamic. We don’t get to stand behind the shield of church or denomination or political party. There is no “us” and “them” anymore. “Us” is the worldwide assembly of the rescued who have been transformed from hopeless humans to adopted sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus. The end.”
“Saying “I meant well” is not going to cut it. Not with God screaming, begging, pleading, urging us to love mercy and justice, to feed the poor and the orphaned, to care for the last and least in nearly every book of the Bible. It will not be enough one day to stand before Jesus and say, “Oh? Were You serious about all that?”
“Hey, here’s something crazy: In the Word, poverty, widows, hunger—these are not metaphors. There are billions of lambs that literally need to be fed. With food.”
“Do we really need to be fed more of the Word, or are we simply undernourished from an absence of living the Word? Maybe we love God, but are we loving others? If our faith is about us, then we are not just hungry—our spirits are starving.”
“I worry the Christian community has accepted an insidious shift from laboring for others to prioritizing our own rights. We’ve perpetuated a group identity as misunderstood and persecuted, defending our positions and preferring to be right over being good news. We’ve bought the lie that connecting with people on their terms is somehow compromising, that our refusal to proclaim our moral ground from word one is a slippery slope. It has become more vital to protect our own station than advocate for a world that needs Jesus, who came to us, wrapped in our skin, speaking our language. If we were not too beneath Christ, who died for us while we were still sinners, then how dare we take a superior position over any other human being? How lovely is a faith community that goes forth as loving sisters and brothers rather than angry defenders and separatists.”
“There is a horrid beauty in following God slightly blind. The victory later is sweeter, the prize more valuable than breath. Obviously, we are Americans; we like a plan, we like assurances. But the ways of faith exist so far outside of our tidy boundaries, it is a wonder we can ever receive its mysteries at all.”
“I want the church to be great because we fed hungry mommas and their babies. I’d like to be great because we battled poverty with not just our money but our hands and hearts. I desire the greatness that comes from seeking not only mercy but justice for those caught in a system with trapdoors. I hope to be part of a great movement of the Holy Spirit, who injects supernatural wind and fire into His mission. My version of great will come when others are scratching their heads and saying, “Wow, you live a really different life.”
“Our only hope is to follow the example of Jesus and get back out there, winning people over with ridiculous love.”
As I walked through the church doors this week, I said to my husband that it felt like a privilege to be asking what we can do to help other people. We don’t have a ton of money in this season, by American standards, but we have more than enough for what we need. It is humbling to see the grace we’ve been offered. When I read Jen’s words and when I think about what can I do, I hear Jesus’ parable in my head about faithfulness. I don’t want to be the one to bury my treasure, hoarding the little I have. I want to be the one who is faithful with what I have been given, who Jesus trusts with more.
I don’t have a clear cut plan of how to help the hurting or what it means to love well. Sometimes I wish I did, but I think Jesus can probably work better when I know less and trust more. But in the midst of not knowing, I think I feel confident that there are things I can be doing. I’m not exempt from loving, simply because I feel small.
So I’m asking. I’m asking Jesus to help me know what it means to help hurting people today. It is easy and distracting to spend time wondering what others are doing or to wonder about the outcome of my actions. I’m also distracted by evaluating how small or insignificant my efforts feel.
The other day I was reminded that my husband applied for a leadership position in college because his youth pastor had done so when he was in college. Without that leadership position, I have trouble imagining us being anything more than passing acquaintances. I don’t think we would have been friends, much less best friends who ended up getting married. I doubt that his youth pastor thought that his year being a leader in college could have such a rippling impact onto so many people. What might be considered “small” by some is tremendous to me. I don’t think it is up to me to decide what matters and what doesn’t. I think it is only my job to show up and ask what Jesus would have me do.
Here’s some of what Jesus is asking me to do: Write a letter. Pray for my hurting friends. Serve a meal. Thank Jesus for his provision. Give money. Ask how I can help. Participate in a webinar about refugees. Pray for the refugees. Ask for my heart to be ready to welcome the hungry, the lonely, the broken.
My heart is reminded of these words from Jesus Calling from November 19: “Leave outcomes up to Me. Follow me wherever I lead, without worrying about how it will all turn out. Think of your life as an adventure, with Me as your guide and companion.”
What a relief to not be responsible for outcomes. I am only responsible for me and what Jesus is asking me to do. Lord, please grant me the courage to show up and say yes to loving the people you put in front of me.