The Cost of Caring

Young woman sitting ion the street

“She felt everything too deeply, it was like the world was too much for her.”

-Joyce Maynard

I can’t tell you how many times I have felt like that. I’m a deeply empathetic person. I can’t help but put myself in your situation when I hear your story.

My education in International Studies filled my head with four years of statistics, research papers, and projects about wars, child soldiers, human trafficking, poverty and oppression. Perhaps it was this concentration on all the ills of the world that pushed me into a place of hiding from all the pain. It was all just too much. I didn’t watch the news. I just couldn’t to handle it. Hearing details of murders, rapes, genocide and war, babies without families and children being abused weighed heavily on my heart and I didn’t know what to do with it.

So I avoided it altogether. I read headlines of major world and national events so as to keep from being completely ignorant, but I would rarely click on actual articles to read through the details. Details painted too clear of a picture, adding to the weight and leaving me feeling either helpless or with a strange sort of survivor’s guilt. Why is the world so unfair and what could I possibly do? Why was I born here and blessed with so much while others lack even basic human necessities like food, clean water and a safe place to lay their head at night? It didn’t make sense.

So I ignored it.

Until recently when I actually clicked through to read the full story. I allowed myself to feel the pain. To let the weight of it press in heavy on my heart. Sadness, anger, and frustration filled up my soul to the point of overflowing, spilling out in words onto a page. Flawed and raw. But I was no longer a passive bystander. I had invested my heart in the issue. I was uncomfortable and agitated to action.

And then something else happened. I was unable to move on with life and forget the tragedy of yesterday. My investment of time, thoughts, and emotions continued. The dam I had built against the waters of empathy and compassion was breaking down and there was no stopping it anymore.

There is a cost to caring.

It costs us our comfort.

It costs emotional energy and time.

I think this is part of what I was afraid of. I knew that caring and allowing myself to feel would cost me some of my freedom. It’s much easier to focus on my world. To focus on my life and my stuff and what I want to do. Caring costs us our selfishness.

It’s easier to build up protective walls around ourselves. It’s easier to let our hearts grow callous. To limit our thoughts and conversations to simple politics. It’s easier to pick someone to be angry at or blame than it is to be broken with compassion and moved by love.

We read the headlines to inform our minds but rarely let it inform our hearts. We depersonalize stories into statistics and we give people labels instead of names. Democrat, republican, drug addict, prostitute, homeless, rich, stupid. Labels allow us to attach varying degrees of value, justifying our lack of caring. And society agrees with us.

Yet when was Jesus ever in agreement with society? Did he pick up the first stone to throw at the woman caught in adultery? Did he treat Zaccheus with contempt? Did he roll his eyes at the woman desperate for healing or recoil in disgust as the lepers drew close?

No.

Jesus wept.

He was moved with compassion to action.

He consistently imparted worth to those whom society had cast aside. He embraced those even the church had rejected. He sought out those whom the rest of the world deemed unworthy of love and dignity. Each and EVERY life held value in the eyes of our Savior.

We’re called to mourn with those who mourn. We’re called to enter in to the pain of another person. This isn’t an act of our intellect, but of our hearts. We have to allow ourselves to feel. Not a passive sympathy, but an active empathy. Compassion that moves us.

We are dealers of hope to a world desperately in need of a new perspective.  We are light and life to those living in darkness. We can be a voice for those who do not have one in the world.

We may not have all the answers but we have access to the one who does.

Our love may run dry and our compassion be limited, but his is limitless.

The weight of the world may be too much for us to bear, but he has already overcome the world. And he’s looking for partners who will open their hearts and let him fill up whatever they’re  lacking so humanity can be healed, restored and reconciled.

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of God’s creations
So that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and all our neighbors who are poor.

Amen.

United We Stand

police shield

As I drove home last night with my four year old son in the backseat I couldn’t help but think of Philando Castile. Also 32 years old and also with a four year old in the backseat when he was fatally shot in his car two nights ago. And suddenly it became real to me. I could put myself in his shoes.

Except that I couldn’t, really. Because I have zero fear of being shot when pulled over for a taillight being out. It would not even be a thought in my mind. Until last night, when I imagined the scene of horror with that poor 4 year old girl in the backseat witnessing the death* of someone her mother loved and cared about. And then watching her mother’s shock and disbelief at what had just happened. What if that were me tonight? But it wouldn’t be. Because, while we are the same in so many ways–the ways that matter the most—we are different in one small way, the color of our skin. This small factor means that I will likely never have to live in fear of having that scenario play out in my life.

Our American air is thick right now with mounting racial tension and for the first time in my life I feel I’ve experienced a taste of what it must have been like during the Civil Rights movement of the sixties. An era so many of us thought was over and done with. Yet here we are. Here we are grieving over the loss of more innocent lives, black and white. Here we are feeling the need to take sides. Here I am feeling the pressure to keep my mouth shut for fear of being misunderstood. I am not anti-law enforcement because I believe that black lives matter. And I am not anti-black lives because I mourn the loss of police life in Dallas.

Law enforcement is not the enemy. White people are not the enemy. Black people are not the enemy. Humanity is not the enemy. Generational hatred and systemic racism is the enemy. Hatred has no life outside of the human souls we give it residence in. Racism and prejudice only exist if we continue to pass them on. Hatred breeds hatred. 

In these increasingly volatile times we have a voice and we have a choice. Will we choose to speak up and stop the legacy of hatred and discrimination with our generation or will our grand-children and great grand-children live in a world unchanged? Will they suffer the same losses and grieve the same heartaches as ours?

We hold onto a mindset that separates “us” from “them.” We find any reason possible to justify these murders because if “justice is served” it absolves us of any responsibility to examine and change our own hearts. This is what allows prejudice to continue in large and sometimes small, sneaky ways.

We have to choose to stand with the oppressed, breaking down the walls that divide us. To link arms and stand with those different from us long enough to see the world through their eyes. To unite long enough to acknowledge that MLK’s dream has yet to be fully realized in our land. To have our eyes opened to the fact that it’s possible we indeed experience some privileges that others do not solely on the basis of our skin color. These privileges may not be clearly marked with painted signs segregating us as they were in the past but if you look long enough, the signs are there.

The current uprising of anger and frustration has not come from out of nowhere. The signs have been there. We just happen to have the technology now to remove all doubt of the injustice and this has brought things to a boiling point. Yet so many of us still choose to turn a blind eye, to justify these losses, or to turn the attention back to ourselves because we know the reality would force us into action. Acknowledging that racism still exists would mean we are responsible to do something about it. It’s easier to brush it under the rug and pretended it doesn’t exist. Yet in the words of Elie Wiesel:

“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

                                                                       

In our day we are not taking sides against a country or a government or even a group of people. We take the side of justice and freedom for ALL. We take the side of love over hatred. We choose to lay down our weapons and come to a common table of understanding and respect where we can hear each others’ stories. Stories and statistics become flesh and blood, heart and soul when we take the time to listen. We are not each others’ enemies; fear and hate are our common enemies.

“Through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers—or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”

                                                                   -Martin Luther King Jr

*I had originally used the word “murder” here which, after a recent conversation, I recognized that given the circumstances and what we don’t yet know about the event it was an unfair use of the word. I chose to replace it with a more accurate and less incendiary word so as to not take away from my ultimate intent of writing this post, which is to encourage conversations, compassion and unity. 

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