(In case you missed it, here is Part 1 of “When Summer Gets Cloudy”).
How do I do justice, love kindness and walk humbly while planning vacations and taking my kids to the pool? What does it look like to enjoy life while others are suffering? Where does this heartache/gratitude tension leave us and what do we do with it? Is it possible to rest in good things when there’s so much unrest for injustice?
This summer I’ve felt a lot of tension around brokenness and blessings. As I welcome with open arms all the good and rest that comes with summer, I’m also burdened for the immense amount of suffering going on in the lives of strangers and people I love. I’ve encountered and experienced at least three ways to respond: avoidance, guilt, or gratitude.
Last month I was at a fundraiser for an organization that works to fight human trafficking, talking to a man about the mission of Rooted Chicago and he said,
“Let me ask you, how do you get people to really engage in causes? Because you know what I’m thinking? These things that are happening to these people are terrible. They really are…but how about them Blackhawks, right?”
These things. These people. It’s bad out there; let’s change the subject.
Avoidance doesn’t deny the brokenness exists, it would just rather not deal. The space program and biochemical engineering and NASDAQ points (Are they points? Numbers? Who is DOW Jones?) are things I avoid, mostly because I can’t begin to explain them. I don’t doubt their importance but surely someone more qualified has it covered. I’m not interested in learning about quantum physics because I still can’t figure out how to bake bread. That’s just me.
From our three minute conversation I want to believe that hockey guy is not heartless. He feels bad but is overwhelmed by where to start with all these “causes” so he doesn’t. When we talk about hockey we can name the players and we understand the game. There are rules and when those rules are broken there are penalties. It’s fun, exciting, it draws people in and at the end of the day everyone goes home.
Human trafficking?…not so much.
Maybe we avoid confronting brokenness because it usually doesn’t play by our rules. The problems run so deep it makes our heads spin and hearts race. When things are incredibly dark and impossibly chaotic the problem solving seems better fit for the sociologists and psychologists and humanitarians and theologians. We’re not qualified, change the subject. Please.
Or maybe we take a different route. I remember one regular Tuesday morning last year I was driving hurriedly to IKEA with a Starbucks in hand feeling stressed and pondering why my kids make me late for everything always when I heard a news report about Meriam Ibrahim, a Sudanese woman giving birth in prison.
Guilt is a dead end road that paralyzes us with shame. I was put off about running late to the Land of Things I Don’t Really Need and this mother just brought her baby into the world while chained to the floor of death row. She was sentenced to be hanged for being a Christian.
I could have thrown up my latte.
I believe our God is not a God of guilt but of conviction because conviction (much like God) shows us a way to move forward. They both start the same- by pointing to sin. But while guilt is a death sentence, conviction is a call to purpose. The Guilt Response tells us we shouldn’t have good things in our lives, while conviction urges us to do something with them.
The night I heard the shooting, as I sat watching my kids sleep safely and listening to the sirens in the distance, it wasn’t guilt weighing me down- it was conviction pushing me forward. The overwhelming gratefulness for the good poured into my life made me want to use it as fuel for redemption, rather than store it up like a collection of warm and fuzzies.
I’ve learned so much about gratitude from the writing of Ann Voskamp. In her book One Thousand Gifts she asks, “What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark? What is God providing here and now?”
What does it mean to find joy in being thankful no matter what? For everything. Always. Like coffee cups and weekend trips and the smile of a stranger and dirty laundry and the intricate patterns in the woodgrain of the floors in your home (she pointed that last one out, not me).
She says in one of her posts, “A life contemplating the blessings of Christ becomes a life acting out the love of Christ.
That — love is but this overflow of thanksgiving to Christ that fills the empty places of others.”
Our gratitude can start with counting the good we see around us as gifts- our kids are healthy, our checking account has money in it, our home is safe, our job gives us three weeks vacation, our spouse loves us- but that’s not where it ends. Anything good we receive points to evidence of a loving God in a broken world. If our gratitude is contingent only on good things and steady circumstances, when the bottom drops out we will drop right with it. We will be tempted to hold those things we love in a vice grip instead of giving our lives away as Jesus asks us to in Matthew 16:25.
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?“
As Ann says, Jesus offers more transformative kind of gratitude, one that acts out the love of Christ because of the love we’ve recieved. It’s responsive.
I think we can start see the good in our lives less like an all-you-can-eat option on the menu and more like family style, with an understanding that good things like justice, encouragement, peace and mercy are served with the intent of being passed to everyone at the table. It would be crazy to see someone filling their plate with heaping piles of food and not participating in the passing, but we do it all the time.
When I get something good on my plate I want it for my neighbor, too, not just in a “pay it forward” kind of way but in a way that points to the God who created, cooked, and served it in the first place. Ultimately, I want thanksgiving and gratitude to overflow in a way that fills other with the same love and freedom I have found in Jesus.
What if our gratitude is lacking?
Using a “fewer deeper” filter to create space for depth, deeper gratitude can begin by clearing out an unhealthy amount of unrealistic expectations. Expectations are dangerous and different than hope: I expected my summer break to be awesome. I expected the sun to shine. I expect people to treat me well. I expect my husband, kids, neighbors, friends to….you get the point.
When we understand the world is a broken place we can hope to encounter good things rather than expect them. Hope is birthed out of humility; expectation can be a descendent of entitlement.
When our hearts are wrecked by the brokenness we see unfolding, avoidance and guilt will hold us back but gratitude can lead us forward. We can spend so much time deliberating the perfect way and perfect time to be used by God. It’s really not quantum physics…or in my case baking bread. Figure out one thing you’re good at or grateful for and let that spill into a need. Is it hosting? Do that for someone who needs it. Building? Do that for someone. Parenting? Fundraising? Running? Business planning? Shopping? Organizing? Empowering? Comforting? Getting babies back to sleep at 2 a.m.? Do it for someone who is struggling, to the glory of God.
We will not and cannot save the world and yet I am amazed at what God does when we trust Him and say yes to being purposed. There are countless stories of people putting one foot on the path, if you need inspiration here’s one from a neighborhood in Chicago: An “army of moms” taking a stand against violence by grilling food and being present.
Take one step and be okay with not knowing exactly where it will lead. You might discover that it’s not magical, simple, reciprocal or convenient but it is worthy and redemptive. It will still be living justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly even if no one ever hears, writes, tweets or creates a Facebook page about it.
It might explode into a movement, rally thousands, raise tons of money…it might not. At the very least, through the cloudy, confusing brokenness, someone hurting will have been poured into with the love of Jesus.
I can’t avoid brokenness like end-of-the-year papers in a neglected backpack and I won’t let guilt hold me back. I want to live grateful in a way that responds. Grateful that God is on the throne and we are not, that He is living, breathing and active in this world and it can be well with my soul. As bad as it gets out there, the wind and waves still know His name.
Catching fireflies and carrying burdens. Let’s do both. We can plan days at the beach and put our arms around the hurting. We can play in the sun and laugh yet get on our knees and weep. Even in seasons labeled “breaks” we can seize opportunities to see the world as Jesus does. We can take what’s poured into us from one minute of rest to a week of relaxation and pray for and pursue ways to pour it right back out.
Summer might get cloudy but the Lord my God remains my hope and my freedom.
Fewer Deeper is a ministry of Re:source Global, a 501c3 ministry. For more information on Re:source Global please go to www.resourceglobal.org.