We had a great conversation last night at church about how to deal with all the pain in the world. What do we do when it gets so overwhelming?
Many acknowledged there’s always been bad news, but until social media, it wasn’t always on our radar. We used to read the paper in the morning and watch the news at night.
Now? If we choose, our brains and hearts are filled with tragedy, conflict, violence and hate just about any time we glance at social media.
Did God design our hearts to take in as much pain and hate as we are? I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think we’re meant to take in all this pain and simply hold it.
That’s why it feels like we’re hitting our limits. We talked about how much we need to put down our phones. Our brains and hearts literally cannot handle this much information.
So where’s the hope? What are we as followers of Jesus supposed to do?
I sense we are to look straight at the world’s pain. The pictures of survivors, house wreckages, our president throwing paper towels at hurricane victims and we feel what rises in us. Anger, fear, pain, frustration, hopelessness. We actually feel it for ourselves. And for the people physically going through the situation. This can be a form of prayer. Open up a Bible to the middle and you’ll likely land in the Psalms. Read a couple of those after you read the news.
Some of us stop here. We offer our thoughts and prayers and feel like there’s nothing we can do to change the bigger stories.
The pain and anger fill us up. We try to cope with all the feelings and we shouldn’t be surprised when they turn into anxiety, depression, avoidance, numbing, checking out and addiction to whatever made it feel better for a minute.
Or we go the other way and we become an activist. We share our opinions, march in the streets, attend rallies, contact our leaders. We turn our rage into action. A righteous anger. This is good. Until it’s not, because we can’t possibly sustain this for four years. The cup will run dry, especially if the protest is out of anger, and not out of hope of what could be.
It’s like Glennon Doyle has been saying lately, “It’s not just about fight or flight, there’s a third word in these times. Invite.”
I know about the fight. We resist and speak out in big and small ways. But, on it’s own, this isn’t sustainable. It can still feel like “one side” out yelling the “other side.”
I know about the flight. I run away and hide from the news on a daily basis. Trying not to care seems easier than letting my heart break open at each new headline.
I’m learning about the invite. This is local. It’s personal. The invite turns the larger narrative that feels too big to change into something I can do here and now, in my community, today.
Who are you feeling the nudge to get to know? To hear a new story, a new perspective, to curiously wonder if your way of seeing it isn’t the only way?
Maybe it’s time we put down our phones and had more real life conversations.
This new reality in our country is calling us out of ourselves. To new and more honest conversations about race, violence, gender equality, guns, patriarchy, discrimination and what it means to be a citizen in this land. The conversations are not pretty. They’re super awkward. But there’s something rising in the spaces of these connections. Is it awareness? Hope? Appreciation for another perspective? I’m not sure yet. But I sense it and it gives me hope.
So this is for my friends who are trying to find ground to stand on in this season when it feels like the bottom fell out.
Show up and feel the pain. Don’t scroll past it. Feel it. As Jesus people, we don’t get to walk away from the pain of our world. We walk into it with a deep hope that it’s never the end. Resurrection is coming.
Then put your phone down. Get quiet. Listen to the voice of the One who made you. Who whispers in the quiet what is most true. Listening to this voice has a way of releasing the pain. It doesn’t ignore the pain of the world. You learn to hold the pain with a deeper love.
Love the people in front of you that day. Build beautiful communities of hope, grace and love. Resist hate in ways that make you come alive. Invite new friends into new conversations.
Our hearts are taking in a lot in this season. Be kind to yourself and each other. We’re all hurting.
Parker Palmer offers this thought and spiritual practice: Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain.
Then there’s the soft and flexible heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the flexible heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.
What can we do to make our tight hearts more flexible, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question we ask every day. With regular exercise, our hearts are less likely to break apart into a million pieces, and more likely to break open into largeness.
There are many ways to make the heart more flexible, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!
My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.
Palms up, friends. It’s a great way to live.