Some days, some weeks, some years it is difficult not to feel like the world is broken, dangerous and unfixable.
If you let the news cycle and injustice of this world dictate your perspective on life it does not take long for it to feel like evil has the upper-hand, the oppressors and exploiters are not only getting away with murder but are being rewarded for it – and that there is not anything, ANYTHING, you can do to stop it.
Even getting involved to help at all brings with it rebuttal, critique and ramped-up emotions in others – “Who do you think you are? You have no right to say or do anything! Why didn’t you get involved sooner? These problems have been around a long time – where were you then? How come you are not doing more than you already have? Why are you doing anything at all? and how dare you tell me what to support or do!” and I’m a pastor, entrusted with the responsibility to care and to lead.
It becomes a no win situation, and the already heavy burden of the pain of the world can drive a person to crumble beneath it in despair.
About a year or so ago I burned-out. On everything. I hated the news. I closed myself from the world. I came to resent my work. I had little motivation to keep going and my efforts seemed utterly futile. It felt like I was treading water while holding a large rock over my head with weights on my ankles and that my failure was inevitable as I kept sinking.
If you have ever felt like this you already know it is not a great place to live. I saw a counselor. I read a lot of books. I had ongoing conversations with trusted friends and colleagues; even as I was turning inward. My family gave me space, support, love, reassurance and more patience than I could ever deserve. My prayer life turned to a deep silence as I just sat and listened. I wondered for a time if everything was meaningless.
Then something changed.
The fog started lifting. The cloudy sky made way for blue again. I felt the sun on my face in a renewed way. I started experiencing little spurts of joy. I laughed and wasn’t faking it. I can’t pinpoint a particular moment, epiphany or action that made this transition happen, but I remember sitting in a meeting at church last fall full of anxious leaders who feared the future and calming them down. I regained my “non-anxious presence.” I walked out of that meeting and felt like I was “back.” My work improved. My family life got better. Friends and colleagues started looking to me for encouragement and support again. I wondered what I could do to make the world a better place to be. I had purpose.
I don’t remember when I started doing this either, but for about a year I have been praying the serenity prayer by Reinhold Neihbur.
For me, this prayer helps me frame the things I do and don’t have control over and the places and things I am responsible for and what I am not. News alert: I don’t have a control over most things. News alert: neither do you. A year or so ago I would have found that truth debilitating. Now I find it completely freeing.
I love this quote from Bishop Desmond Tuto, and go back to it often.
I started thinking about the things I can do to help others and serve my community. I can’t do everything for everybody but I can listen. I can help in a crisis. I can be a person to lean on in loss. I can be honest about my own struggles as other people struggle with theirs. I can strategize through problems and regroup when things don’t work exactly as planned. I can be a positive voice of encouragement in a world that tears everybody down. I can learn and keep learning. In a world that divides; I can use my gifts of openness and welcome and hospitality as I value the dignity and contributions of everybody I encounter – even the people that often drive me bananas.
I started asking, “How can I pastor these people God has given me, in this place?” rather than “How do I fix everything in this broken world, and why am I doing such a lousy job?” I didn’t need to be Jesus. He is already here. I began enjoying church again by being me.
I strive to be a better spouse and father. I hope to be a dependable friend and confidant. I look for places to help my neighbors. I joined my town’s volunteer fire department and got involved. I spent more time in town just talking to people. I rekindled my love of running and ran a marathon this May. My family just adopted baby chicks. I learned (and keep learning) that I can do much more than I thought I ever could.
The news cycle right now is terrible. Pain is prevalent. Injustice thrives. Dishonesty is rewarded. Cruelty for cruelty’s sake is the norm. Fear is in a frenzy. The cowards are in charge. Evil is everywhere. There are plenty of people throwing stones from the sidelines.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Some will call for us to burn it all down. Others will burn-out in the process. Others will retreat or hide or pretend the world isn’t in the state it is in or what is happening doesn’t (or won’t) affect them. Others will ally themselves with darkness.
I intend to do my little part. To be one little pebble tossed into the pond to ripple all around me the love, grace, mercy and peace of God that was never mine to control. God pours out the spirit of truth in abundance. I hope that I can be at least one person to help deliver those goods. I encourage you to do your little part too. You can do more than you realize once you realize you don’t have to do it all.
And if you are in despair today looking at the dim state of the world, know this: in the end, love wins.