One of my tinies has a particularly sensitive spirit.  (Well, to be honest, I tend to think most kids do. Maybe some of us just get really good at dulling our sensitivity early.) One night, he couldn’t sleep and seemed very rumpled in his soul. Finally, hardly able to speak the words for how they gripped his mind, he told me about a poster he had seen at a community event. He had been out with his dad for the day. And there were booths set up at the event, not only for local businesses but also for local charities. And I guess one of them was for a charity that works to prevent child trafficking.

“It was a kid, Mum, and he had chains wrapped all around his body and he was scared.”

My son was devastated at just the memory of this poster, unable to sleep. He was too young to see such a thing perhaps, because he didn’t understand marketing materials. He was just at a little community event and was confronted there with an image that now tortured his sleep. We didn’t notice it and so couldn’t help him understand or process it at the time.

That night, I wrapped him in my arms. We prayed and talked about it and prayed more. He curled up into our strength. He slept with us all night.

But I admit that I lay awake wondering why I’m not more bothered – especially because I know the truth behind images like that. And so many others.

A religious minority chased up a mountain to starve to death in Iraq, their children being beheaded and crucified. Forced female genital mutilation. The girls still in the clutches of Boko Haram. The situation in Israel and Gaza, so many Palestinian civilians dead, their children weeping or injured or worse. There’s the Russian escalation, planes being shot out of the sky, the spectre of people littered in a field without proper care for days, 24 hours news coverage of carnage. There are the kids caught in the midst of the central American refugee crisis, pouring over borders and now being kept in detention centres. Lonely, sad-eyed children trapped in airless buildings without hope. Ferocious ebola outbreaks in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now into Nigeria it seems. Unarmed young African-American men killed o the street or in the Walmart toy section without provocation as they move through their daily lives.

And the list goes on. and on. and on.

I scroll through Twitter and in between snippets of snark and jokes, people are posting pictures of someone else’s dead kids.

With the news coming out of Iraq, I remembered – almost against my will – every single sermon I have heard in my life around Easter, a preacher usually describing in terrible detail the crucifixion of Christ in gory nuance (why do preachers do that?) and then I found myself applying all of those same descriptions to someone else’s child in the cradle of civilization just yesterday, and my stomach heaves and then I shut down my entire mind and heart, unable to bear it.

I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it, I can’t think of it. No one could. This is evil, this is hell.

I hear of these things and then I cannot bear it so I stop thinking of them. I simply close the gates of my mind and heart to it, it’s too terrible. And yet I move through my day somehow. I sleep well. I eat meals. I am consumed with my own concerns.

But on the night one of my children came to me, utterly devastated by just the sight of marketing materials having to do with child trafficking, I knew he was more right than me.

I should be devastated. We should all be devastated. It should disturb my sleep.

Perhaps lament and anger and grief is the most godly response and posture. 

Grief and lament and anger is the beginning point of hope, it seems.

I lay in bed with my broken-hearted boy and saw the truth of this. His heart was broken by just the glimpse of injustice towards children, and I had to wonder why my heart is not more broken, why my sleep is not more disturbed when I know and have seen so much more.

My son was right in his response. I have become too callous to suffering.

It’s been a hard summer in this old world of ours. The Kingdom of God seem so far away in these days. It feels foolish to pray and hope sometimes.

The dream of turning swords into ploughshares seems laughable. Who could turn tanks and missiles into farming equipment? Who could dare speak of a day when all tears will be wiped away? Who is foolish enough to hope for the desert to burst forth into bloom, for streams of water to flow in the parched and barren places?

I turned to the words of the great Desmond Tutu, who carries both hope and sadness like an anointing. He wrote, “Dear Child of God, I write these words because we all experience sadness, we all come at times to despair, and we all lose hope that the suffering in our lives and in the world will ever end. I want to share with you my faith and my understanding that this suffering can be transformed and redeemed. There is no such thing as a totally hopeless case. Our God is an expert at dealing with chaos, with brokenness, with all the worst that we can imagine. God created order out of disorder, cosmos out of chaos, and God can do so always, can do so now–in our personal lives and in our lives as nations, globally. … Indeed, God is transforming the world now–through us–because God loves us.” 

And so I find myself hoping.

Foolishly, perhaps. But it’s a company of holy fools, spreading like yeast. Small seeds grow to mighty oaks.

We feel small in these days. And that smallness makes us feel powerless in the face of such suffering. Even stretching out our opinions from the place of disinterest and objectivity on each story is a privilege.

So how do I hold onto that hope that God is transforming the world now through us?

We can’t willfully push away the suffering of humanity and the terribleness of the world out of selfishness and discomfort with the truth.

We can listen – truly listen – to the stories that people need to tell. Maya Angelou wrote that there is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.

We can kick against the injustices and amplify the voices of those who are suffering. We can read the prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah. We can educate ourselves and seek to understand complexity outside of our pet sources. We can light candles and, oh, we can pray.

We can write letters and advocate. We can be teachable. We can hold space for the suffering. We can both prayerfully and practically support people and organizations who are working towards peace and shalom in the front lines. We can do that work ourselves, daily small and unsexy as it is.

We can let our children lead us back to the right response – compassion and tenderness of heart again.

In the words of Isaiah, we can sweep our lives clean of evildoings, say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down-and-out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless. (Isaiah 1:12-17)

Isaiah

If we want the light of God to be the light by which we live, let that light shine in our lives and let it expose the truth. The truth shall set us free. We can give myself over to a sleepless night, holding vigil with all those who weep and watch and wait. We can create beauty. We can be what Kathy Escobar calls a “pocket of freedom and love,” setting up prophetic outposts of the Kingdom of God in our right-now lives.

And we can pray with our children and then raise them to listen, and to work, and to partner with God in the work of truth-telling and reconciliation and justice. This is God’s work, to love well.

We can be men and women who love.

Sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

Sometimes it all begins with the terrible prayer: Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.

Be careful, because when your heart breaks, everything and everyone can tumble right in, right where they belong, right to the centre of your love and your hope.

Kyrie eléison. Lord, have mercy.

 

 

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  • Ugh. As usual, so good. I cried reading this! I know the feeling of shutting your heart because you cant bear to feel all those things!

    I wrote this the other day: “the qualities I most long to see in the world around me, they all begin with ME. They begin in my home, my workplace, my rush-hour drive.”

    And its so true. I get so easily overwhelmed by the horrific things that people are facing across the globe, the INJUSTICE of it. And I get overwhelmed and even angry. But really it comes down to moving stones one by one, just as you said. Injustice in the world becomes great evil when the small things pile on and pile on to make that great mountain.

    Thanks for writing this Sarah.

    http://shedarestobe.wordpress.com/2014/08/07/justice-begins-with-me/

  • mallory

    thx sarah bessey. just a college student down in tx. haven’t known what to do, how to pray in light of these heavy, heavy things. it’s refreshing and nurturing to my very heart to have the guidance of your perspective on this. these words are the ones I have craved more than defenses and debates and analysis over American Xian leaders liberal/conservative theology.

  • My husband says trying to meet the needs of the suffering can feel like standing in the middle of a tsunami with nothing but an umbrella. I want to be the kind of woman who stands firm in the face of the storm, even if all I have is an umbrella and the tiniest bit of hope that it will make a difference. Standing and believing with you, Sarah.

  • Sarah, I’m left discomforted and challenged by this post. You are so absolutely right about this…it’s so easy to numb ourselves, to harden ourselves, to be more dismissive of the incredible suffering in our midst. Thanks for this reminder not to forget, and to take action.

  • Andrea

    A few days ago, I read a description of the mob-run Ukrainian orphanages. Apparently the Mafia keep lists of the children who will age out, to facilitate recruiting and trafficking them when they leave. And now all I can think of are these children who have nobody to speak for them and nobody to stop this, falling off the edge into a pit.

    I couldn’t sleep. I felt so utterly, wholly helpless. What the hell do I do? What CAN I do? Pray, certainly, but come on, now–I mean what can really be DONE, with feet and hands, here on Earth? Because children are bought and sold, their lives end before they ever had a chance to begin, and you are right, these truths I hate are hell on earth, and I want so desperately to unmake it so.

    • Andrea, I struggle with this too. I feel SO powerless that reading and praying and posting things on FB to educate others is not enough anymore. I know my heart is calling me to DO but I can’t see how. I keep praying God will show me the way- that’s all I can ask.

  • Thank you for reminding us it’s okay, even good in a sense, to feel the devastation. I don’t even know what to do, other than pray and curse and scream and hope. Sometimes all at once. I want to help, but, really, I wish I knew how.

  • Oh Sarah,
    Thank you for speaking to the small things, the small ones. It does seem big sometimes, far too big, and I worry that my anger and hope are not nearly enough.
    You have reminded me that they are.
    I have missed your voice, dear one. Thank you for letting it go forth once again.

  • Oh yes. This is so true. Thank you.

  • Trish Finley

    This was both balm and a wake-up call to my spirit today. I needed community to grieve with and a reassessment of how my live-out life measures up to my ideals, and this has been both. Thank you for writing.

  • Meghan

    Yes and amen. Thank you for this. May we work towards peace and justice by moving the small stones.

  • Sarah, your words carry forth hope. I am so grateful for you and what you do. I have been wrestling–like we have–and you help me keep leaning in, seeking Him in the midst of this. Bless you!

  • Rebecca Clark

    Thank you for this. I need to keep holding on to the hope that our God will create beauty from ashes. I was already crying my way through the weekend over Iraq when I heard the news of Michael Brown. It was like a sucker punch added to the sadness to have something like that happen in my community. It has been a struggle to feel all the feelings, since there is the fear that once I enter that deep dark hole of sadness I won’t be able to come out. But I am holding onto the promise that those who mourn will be comforted.

  • Sob. Deep breath. So glad you’re back.

  • My heart is aching. I feel so helpless. Somehow the world just keeps turning and we do the things we always do, eat, sleep, breathe. I wish we could light a collective candle for the world right now.

  • It is just so hard to find hope in all this right now, thank you for trying.

  • I have felt like there is something wrong with me for feeling the grief of those suffering around me so deeply, like I am being too sensitive. But this post. Oh wow! Now I are that I am holding a space for the suffering and grief. Moved by your challenge from Isaiah 1 as well. Thank you Sarah!

  • Sarah-Your quote, “… why I’m not more bothered – especially because I know the truth behind images like that. And so many others,” rings so real to me. Though, we are bothered by all the pain you note (“religious minority chased up a mountain to starve to death in Iraq, their children being beheaded and crucified…”) we become overwhelmed and do not know what to do and your blog post reminds us to not forget, to not grow numb, but instead to talk about it and to PRAY and to ask God to continue to break our hearts for what breaks God’s heart and to continue to learn from the children, who are still sensitive. – Cornelia

  • Gary L Ware

    Sarah,

    “But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time. Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.”

    Your statement is the correct answer, methodology, and action. Jesus told his disciples they could SAY to the mountain…They were not instructed to move the mountain but trust the result to God. If one went to the mountain, picked up a rock and carried it away, they were part of the overall process.

    We were also told of the pending catastrophe during the End Times.

    I pray for and talk to my neighbor (picking up stones close to me) and I pray for the innocents, far away (saying to the mountain). I have worked for companies that were so mismanaged, they closed, and I could not change the management actions or results (I grew bitter about these, until I changed). I learned to turn loose and find better employment while encouraging others to hope for better jobs and benefits.

    This insanity WILL end but we WILL suffer the birth pains of the new Sanity.

    One more point: People living in a war zone, live with it. They experience times of despair, fear and pain but the mind is designed to ignore/overlook/adjust to what IS, so it can survive. Jesus took his leave of the burdens during a boat ride or desert excursion and he took his disciples to teach them to rest. When they were rested and strengthened, they were able to return to the work.

    I suggest you be thankful for your rest and not accept guilt. God bless.

  • I feel injustice more than empathy as a general rule to things like this. It helps me do my job – of objectively reporting about hard and hidden things most people would probably wish I’d leave alone. Sometimes I think I’m a little broken, but then who would tell the stories of the Saints? We have a role to play. It’s gratifying to know what your role and then go and do that.

    • So gratifying – glad you have that assurance! Keep it up.

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  • Thank you for posting and writing on this. It came at the exact time I needed to hear it. I have been intentional this last week about cutting out media that are time-wasters and filling time instead with educating myself on current events, reading the news, and in general working on the quality of media I consume. Since I have been reading the news so much because of that this last week, I’ve just felt overwhelmed with how much suffering is occurring in other countries. It made me feel that everything in my life was so pointless, and I’m just one small person, and there is such tragedy in these other countries. Your post helped bring a lot of clarity and inspiration as to how to respond as a Christian in the U.S.

    Thanks for this. I just started following your blog recently and am really enjoying your writing!

  • Eileen

    After reading this I prayed through the morning office from http://commonprayer.net and loved their prayer for August 13th. So fitting for right now:

    “Lord, you came as a child to lead us toward your kingdom. We thank you for the dreams of the young. Fill us with wonder and give us a childlike audacity, even in the face of trials and persecution, to believe in another world despite the evidence around us, and to watch the evidence change. Amen.”

  • Laura

    Thank you for this post! Ironically, you posted this the day after I had wrestled all night in anger, frustration, powerlessness, helplessness and sadness over all that has been going on around the world this summer. Because I feel too deep (it’s a blessing and sometimes a curse), I have been intentionally staying away from news and social media. For some reason, though, I allowed the news of Mike Brown, Iraq, Western Africa to flood my heart and mind, and I broke. Once the anger (somewhat) subsided, I began realizing the magnitude of all these things (and many more) happening at one time. My mind flooded with so many questions: Lord, why are you allowing all these things to happen? How can evil be allowed to permeate so many pockets of the world–at one time? Will my little prayers from this small corner of the world really help? And then, that next morning, your post appeared in my mailbox. After reading it, I realized that no matter how small or insignificant I may THINK the job, vis-a-vis our current world issues, I do have a job to do. My job is to have compassion, pray, bring awareness, pray some more, encourage where possible, pray some more. On an individual level my job is to be more cognizant of my propensity to over-inflate the problems in my life; to make sure my children don’t become so accustomed to the ugliness of this world that they become numb; to listen/look for God in the midst of…everything. So again, thank you for your post. You helped me remember my job.

  • This is heartening and inspiring. Thank you

  • Ah, yes. YES. Thanks for these beautiful words and this strong commissioning, Sarah. I wrote something a little similar this week because this stuff is hard, hard. And we can shut ourselves off from it so easily. Thank God for tender children who call us to truth and remind us of who we are. We are SOFT, intentionally and purposefully. And we need to let the hard into us at some point, to pick up whatever stone is ours to pick up and to say ‘no’ to evil. Thank you.

  • Kara

    For the last six months, the reality of the fallen world has come crashing into my heart. As my friends in Ukraine enter the heartbreak and strain of living with injustice and violence, my heart is so burdened. How long, o Lord! As I read of the violence in the States against Black boys, how long O Lord? It is very hard to let these truths break our hearts, yet to not lose hope. God has called us to a ministry of heart-change in a hard place. The work is slow, yet we trust in Him. The historical reality of how long He lets injustice and violence continue is sobering. My prayer reading this morning included this psalm, to which I cling:

    Be still before the Lord and wait for him;
    do not fret over those that prosper
    as they follow their evil schemes.

    Refrain from anger and abandon wrath;
    do not fret, lest you be moved to do evil.

    For evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.

    Yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more;
    you will search for their place and find them gone.

    But the lowly shall possess the land
    and shall delight in abundance of peace.

  • Well said, again. I think the reason we don’t react to a poster like that is that it’s too much. We are bombarded by evil every day that we have to let some of it go. Not that we forget or become uncaring about it, but our heart can only take so much so our mind has to shut it off sometimes. I know when I am entrenched in a cause or gripped by the religious war in Iraq I get depressed. I actually cry for Christians in the Middle East but I have to step away for a bit. I don’t forget. I just need to regroup.

  • Renee

    Thank you for this post! My husband has been disturbed by the events in Iraq this week similarly to your son. I’ve never seen him feel this deeply before–it’s beautiful and terrible. So the one thing he thought he could do is make a schedule for 5 days worth of prayer – for people to sign up and fill those days committing to praying for 15 mins. Thought I’d pass it along in case anyone here would like to join in: http://bit.ly/1pxsMpf

  • patricia wade

    It’s good to know others are as exhausted as I am with all the evil we are witnessing daily. I try not to watch too much t.v., but then I feel guilty for not staying informed. Our choir has sung the song, “Kyrie Eleison”, which is so moving and truly needed for this time we are in. My four grandchildren are being brought up with moral values and kindness. I pray that they can make a difference. It is difficult to stay hopeful.

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  • I feel you here in your “smallness.” I felt like this was written for me. I’ve been very weighed down by the summer’s world-wide terrors and wrote my own response to them on my blog. Have been feeling like Habakkuk of late. You know, “justice never goes forth.”

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  • concerned

    The great Desmond Tutu? That’s a pretty mixed bag if your worldview is from a Biblical framework. He’s done some good things and some very decidedly outside-the-ancient-faith things.

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