There is a fragility to life that we are seeing with more clarity these days: where celebration can quickly turn to mourning. As we turn on our televisions and are greeted more and more with news that makes our hearts heavy and our eyes fill with tears. There is so much senseless suffering and hurting that make many ask, "God, where are you? How can these types of things happen? How can a loving God allow it?"
Eighty-four people dead in another terrorist attack. The frequency is coming so much more quickly and in places we would never expect them to.
Is there anywhere that's safe?
Will I see my family and loved ones whenever they leave the house to go out somewhere?
In the blink of an eye, a normal day is turned upside down and we are left with sorrow and uncertainty. We find ourselves asking, "Is there anywhere that's safe? Where are we secure?"
It begins to stir up anxieties and fears. These events can also tug at the prejudices and suspicions we have of different groups or religions. We can find ourselves thinking of them as the "other" and distancing ourselves from them. As soon as we do, it becomes easier to demonize them. Certainly we see this in our own political atmosphere where all one has to do is mention the name "Trump" or "Clinton" to hear the vitriol and anger in people. We are a fractured people, unsettled by our times, longing for the safety of a time that is only found in nostalgia and re-imagined memory. History, like memory, is never the solid ground we think it to be. It is much more of an unstable flux filled with peril, restlessness, and doubt.
Often society appears to be about to burst at the seams.
Yet, as Christians, how should we respond in the midst of chaos?
2 Timothy 1:7 reminds us, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." Our certainty does not rest in our circumstances but in our Creator. It is He who gives us this power that is based not in anxiousness but in love, peace and grace. It is because our trust is in Him and not our political leaders or our countries that we can choose not to react in hatred and fear, but in Christ-like compassion. It is a choice.
All of our decisions are ultimately based in one of two reactions: fear or love. When we make a choice out of fear, it is because we are spiritually insecure. Insecurity makes us distrust and look with suspicion on those who are not like us: whether that be in religious or political beliefs, sexuality, race, or a myriad of reasons that someone else or another group is not the same and are therefore diminished. Yet we are not called to see anyone through the lens of prejudices or fear, but to see them as Jesus sees them. He always went to the "other," the marginalized, the victimized, the forgotten, neglected, hurting, ostracized, poor, or discriminated.
Because he understood that in his kingdom there is no "other."
As Thomas Merton once wrote, "The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another."
This means we have to take a good look at ourselves, at the darkness in our own hearts and ask, "Who do I view as an other? Who do I, even secretly, discriminate against or judge harshly?"
The more these tragic events occur, the more I see Christians, like myself, needing to step up in a compassionate and courageous way. I love what Frederick Buechner said, "Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin. It's the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too."
Are we, as Christians, offering others that peace and joy?
Are we extending our hands in compassion to those we would normally prefer to not associate with?
We should approach all in life with a sense of faith and hope. Colossians 3:12 tells us, "Put on then,as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience . . ."
How much of a difference would we see in ourselves if we did?
How much of a difference would we see in our families?
In our churches? In our neighborhoods? In our communities?
In our states, our country, and ultimately the world if we truly moved in a constant attitude of compassion, kindness, and humility?
What would happen if our theology truly became our daily biography?
If we lived out a theology of love, mercy, gentleness, grace, and long-suffering? If we offered others dignity, respect and a sense of worth? If we gave value to their lives by listening and caring? If we reached beyond our own preconceived ideas and perceptions to embrace that they are beloved by God?
Right now, I find myself moved again to tear filled prayer. Prayer for those who are hurting and mourning. Psalm 34:18 reminds us, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." We need to be a part of that healing process.
We must be healing in the midst of the hurting and the violence. We must not be the friends of Job, but simply be there for those who are weeping and just be with them. Just listen. Just embrace and cry with them.
As Christians, we need to no longer see someone as less. We must recognize in them the very image of our Creator. We must see that they have hopes and dreams for themselves and their families. Albert Schweitzer said, "Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace."
Today, we all need to go out into the world that we inhabit and strive to walk in generosity, patience, and compassion to those around us. We don't know what hurting they are suffering. We don't know their stories. We may be unaware of the tragedies that have befallen them. All we need to know is that we can offer them a smile, a kind word, or, perhaps, our patience. Wherever we are, we need to be aware that we may be their only image of Jesus that day. Even if we never say a word to someone, are we showing them the love and light of Christ in us?
We need to ask ourselves, "Do others need our judgment or our compassion?" Which would we choose to have shown to ourselves?
So remember, as you are busy about your day today:
We may not change the world, but we might just change someone else's day.
"Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you" (Ephesians 4:32).