Years ago I was working in an after-school program at a middle school, where most of the students were considered “at-risk” and from “low-income families.” A week after meeting these families, I was losing sleep.
At the end of each day, I’d lie in bed and close my eyes, but they wouldn’t stay shut for long. I’d wake up throughout the night with new thoughts racing: What would happen to the girl who’d been abused by her stepfather? She had already tried to take her life once. What about the boy who’d been held back twice? He would turn 16 soon. Would he finally finish middle school?
Every moment with these children seemed pivotal. What could I do? How would I fix their circumstances, their lives? In my mind, one reprimand could drive a student toward getting all A’s and going to college—or toward joining a gang and going to prison. Every day I’d go home exhausted to face another restless night.
And I would pray. I’d pray frantic prayers that were more of a list of worries than petitions to the Lord. They held small hope, little belief that God cared enough to intervene.
When my eyes are open to the severity of existence I am able to look up to the One from whom all help comes and say, “This too, God. I trust You in this too.”
Years later, I’m in a familiar place. News reports of race-related altercations around the country, Christians and unbelievers alike being killed by ISIS extremists, Ebola killing thousands of people in several countries—it’s all happening at once. Again, I’m overcome. Do You not see them? I cry to God. There are people dying. There are people hurt and scared. Do You not care?
Martin Luther once said, “The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.” And this is the sin beneath my panic. I believe God is too far removed to care and the weight of responsibility somehow falls on my weak shoulders.
But you see, my love isn’t consistent. I waver between wanting to fix the world and wanting to escape it. Meanwhile, as I waver, tossed about by my emotions, God’s love reaches further than mine ever will. When Jesus said those famous words, “God so loved the world,” He knew what He was getting into. And He hasn’t changed His mind about it.
The temptation is to think the solution to my predicament is caring less and not exposing myself to harsh realities. But to what end? It is when my eyes are open to the severity of existence that I am able to look up to the One from whom all help comes and say, “This too, God. I trust You in this too.”
Those nights when I’d come home from my job, I had to change the way I prayed—something I’m still working on. Instead of calling out to emptiness, assuming that no one heard me, I chose to speak with the One who doesn’t only love—He so loves.
The answer isn’t in caring less or escaping. The compassion I have for my neighbors both near and far is a gift from God and an aspect of Christlikeness that I shouldn’t—and don’t—want to give up. In the midst of all the world’s turmoil and my feelings of helplessness, I can trust that He cares more. He loves better. That even when it appears otherwise, He is always in control.