There is so much pain in the world right now. So much anger, fear, injustice and violence. It is hard to open our eyes to another new day when more people are grieving, or suffering, or are in conflict with one another.
It is hard to feel helpless to solve the huge problems that seem to be bursting into public view and demanding that we pay attention to how they harm us: racism, discrimination, gun violence, deeply divided politics, to name a few. And they are not isolated, of course. Each of these issues is important on its own, and each is intertwined with so many others, and embedded in our deepest hopes and fears.
How do we help untangle what is happening, and also help lower the anxiety and grief around us, all the while managing our own?
Sometimes we are called to do nothing. Or maybe, what we are called to looks like something very small, but could have larger consequences. By which I mean:
Listen. This is so basic, and yet so hard to do. Really, really listen to those who are in fear, anger, grief and pain. Be present, even on social media, and instead of offering any response, just hear or read what they are saying and receive it. We don’t have to agree with what is said. We don’t have to take responsibility for it or change it. We can just really hear it, even if it is hard.
It seems to me that even when people are saying two opposite things, deep down their message is the same: ‘I am afraid. I am angry. I am losing hope.’ Really hearing this is doing something, and it can change us in and of itself.
Look. The person who is expressing the opinion that seems so outrageous to us right now is not our enemy, they are our brother or sister. This is what we believe if we are Christian, and if we are not, it is still a pretty good belief!
Sometimes our outrage can make us separate and label each other in ways that dehumanize. The simple act of saying, even silently to ourselves, ‘my beloved brother/sister’ before the name of someone who frightens or exasperates us with their thoughts helps to bring peace to a situation. Not only that, but it shows us our common humanity, and that no matter how different the other person seems, they have something to teach us. We are not ‘right’ and they are not ‘wrong’. Fundamentally, we are all the same and most of us want very similar things: peace, safety, love. Seeing each other this way is the first step to changing anything.
Trust. As a follower of Jesus, it is part of my belief system that it is all good news in the end. Sometimes things are changing, we just can’t see it at the moment. Or they are changing in ways we don’t like, but it doesn’t mean that everything is falling apart. Or maybe everything is falling apart, but it will still be ok. Yes, we do have to put an end to hatred and violence. But believing that the larger force of love will always have the last word is in fact working towards that goal.
To say we are not ‘doing’ anything is not to say that we do not care about the suffering around us. It is not to deny work that needs to be done reforming our society and caring for ourselves and our neighbors. And it is not saying there are not times when we are absolutely called to direct action.
And yet, we can also be careful not to re-act in our own pain and helplessness, and risk inadvertently bringing the same spirit of fear and divisiveness that we are hoping to dispel.
To listen, to look, to trust. To be present and to pray. These are active choices, too, even if they are not always apparent. And they represent a belief in something larger than we are, an acknowledgement that we do not have all the answers, that there are some problems too big for us to solve on our own. That the power of peace and reconciliation is larger than us all, and that is very good news.
Don’t just do something. Sit there. Listen. Look. Trust. Believe.