So many words flash across our television screens; so many hards going on around and within each of us. It did not just begin with ebola, enterovirus, ISIS. No. This sickness, this brokenness, has existed since the moment Eve said, “Yes” to doubt and Adam agreed. It penetrated into all of us and from that point on, all of humanity has been covered and washed in our own mess. It seems we are always saying, “What in the world is going on in our world?”; when the truth is, there is nothing new under the sun. Same story, different writing. We are covered in it; and often the more we know the more we fear. We turn off the television, stop reading the news, pretend it doesn’t exist, but eventually, it catches up to us. Eventually, the hard is no longer on the screen but in our own circle and it is then we can no longer run away.
As a little girl, I would always end my prayers with, “And, God, please be with the people of Somolia and those less fortunate than me”. I am not sure when my heart first heard of Somolia; and at that point, I am pretty sure I thought less fortunate applied to the starving; the sick. Nevertheless, my heart was always made tender to the “underdog” as I called it; the ones who seemed to have it harder than those around them. I remember seeing the obituaries and thinking to myself, “There are so many people hurting all around me. How rude of me to enjoy anything in light of others’ suffering”.
Later on, as I was privileged to travel across the world to places like Ethiopia and Bangladesh, I wondered if these emotions would overtake me even more. I was fearful that I would see the poverty, see the sickness, and be unable to enjoy anything in my American dream life. But Jesus.
As I entered into these new cultures, I suddenly had a heart change. It was not the physically ill, the physically poor, that I should feel sorry for. No. Those that have it the hardest are the ones that are sick in the soul. Those that are hurting the most are the ones whose souls are stricken with poverty. True, the physical need was great in these places; and we wanted to meet those immediate needs as well. At the end of the day, however, the people who seemed to be the most content were not the ones who were free from suffering in this life but the ones who had hope in the One who had the power to free them for all eternity. Jesus.
The Word says it this way:
“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
You see, all those temporary things seemed momentous at the time; but in light of eternity, they were nothing but fading afflictions. Suddenly, it was me that I felt sorry for- the one who was going back to a place in which a handful of citizens with disease is more important than countries of dying people. A place in which people are more concerned with protecting their own castles instead of helping a neighbor rebuild their own hut. A world of distraction after distraction after distraction where busyness is our god and self is our goal. Sick souls fearful of dying bodies. This is the true outbreak that is killing the core of who we are. This is the disease we should fear.
Today, I sit in a comfortable home free of physical illness. I have a fun weekend planned in which I will catch up with old friends and escape from the mundane. Not five miles away from where I write, there are people suffering immensely. In hospitals, on streets, all around. How do we do it? Is it wrong to bask in our current happiness when there are millions around us deeply hurting? Should we stay in a constant state of mourning, knowing that many are in such a hard place?
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”.- Romans 12:15
God. This God who has the ability to be in all places at all times, and meet us individually where we need to be met. He made this command to us all, and I believe there is much to be learned from it. You see, while we live on this earth, there is always going to be suffering. I speak often about how we must embrace the suffering instead running from it, but let’s not forget why: we embrace the suffering because we know that where suffering exists, God’s grace exists all the more and this gives us hope that He is using it for His good. We do not embrace suffering for the purpose of martyrdom; for the service to self. No. We hug tight onto whatever God has placed in front of us, and we help our neighbors do the same by holding fast to their today as well. Rejoicing and mourning can co-exist when Hope reigns. Ann Voskamp in her book, “One Thousand Gifts”, says it this way:
“I know there is poor and hideous suffering, and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. I have lived pain, and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of wild roses in early July and the song of crickets on humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives. Why would the world need more anger, more outrage? How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is joy that saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does. The brave who focus on all things good and all things beautiful and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to all the world”.
This Light she speaks of us God in us and we exude Hope to all the hards of the world when we choose to bless the Lord and trust Him in all things. We portray Jesus to a watching, hurting, fear-filled society when we choose to watch the news and say, “Amen” to it all- not because we love the sin involved but because we know the God above it and know He is going to use all things for future glory. This same God meets us all exactly where we are, both in mind, spirit, and body, and promises that He is not letting go. He promises that all things, the things we rejoice in and the things that make us mourn, are being tied together into a beautiful tapestry of His grace. If He brings it to you, it is good.
So, today. You might be in the trenches of the suffering. You might be coasting through, ready for the weekend plans to come. All is grace, so let’s allow one another to be there, wherever there is. Let’s not fear those things that ultimately have no authority over our souls, and let’s be a people that breathe in deep His love and mercies in all things. Let’s rejoice, let’s mourn, let’s love. Hope is here if yet we would have eyes to see.