He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
At our first house in Delaware, we learned fairly quickly that working in the kitchen was a strategic endeavor. You couldn't do all the things at once. For example, if the dishwasher was on, DON'T start the microwave. If you did, that entire portion of our house would go dark in about 30 seconds. Of course, this happened time and time again, and our kids all learned that when everything shut down, they'd need to run down into the basement and flip the breaker again. The circuit board was older, and it simply couldn't handle too many inputs all at the same time. This rhythm of over-extending the system and then needing to reset it again became an almost daily occurrence. It was hard to remember the limit of only one major energy pull at a time.
Heartbreaking images from Afghanistan. Another season affected by COVID and the exhausting emotions that go with it. The upcoming school year. Forest fires and climate extremes. Earthquakes and helplessness. Fresh debates about immigration. Innocent suffering. The ongoing need for justice in so many areas. Job stress in each unique profession right now. That volunteer position your church is trying to fill. Dealing with loss. Your personal list will undoubtedly have other items added to it.
I want to care about all of these things. And I should care about them as a compassionate disciple of Jesus, shouldn't I?
Maybe the answer is both yes and no.
We live in a very different world than even 50 years ago. Our awareness of suffering and hurt has widened from personal connections by word of mouth, to brief evening news reports, to minute-by-minute live updates from everywhere across the globe, right in our pockets. There was another tragedy today. Just google it and you'll find one, I promise. It's totally overwhelming.
Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber writes, "The human heart and spirit were developed to be able to hold, feel and respond to any tragedy, injustice, sorrow or natural disaster that was happening IN OUR VILLAGE."
But today, we know what's happening in every village. And feeling compassion is a completely overwhelming experience (not to mention the pressure to do "performative" compassion because of social media).
The truth is, we aren't made for that kind of energy strain. It will break our circuits to feel the weight of everything, all the time. And that's exactly what happens. We jump from one overwhelming news situation to another, and we end up so horrified and so angry and so exhausted from it all, that we just sit there and feel sad. We feel broken and powerless because we know we can't fix all the brokenness of the world.
But here's the thing. We actually were made to fix the brokenness of the world. We just weren't made to individually fix all of it, and we certainly weren't made to do it alone.
Jesus has called his people to be representatives of his kingdom, known by love and active in offering compassion to the poor, the vulnerable, and the suffering. But this calling was given to the entire church to work at, and it was given with the understanding that the Spirit of Christ is the one doing the heavy lifting, empowering us to join in the kingdom-building process.
When we feel the crushing weight of every single cause, or when we think that the pressure is on us to keep finding the energy to act without really looking to Jesus for strength, we are headed for burnout, paralysis, and apathy. Our bodies can't handle that much energy output. We'll shut down.
So if you just want to ignore everything and turn it all off, it's probably not because you are a heartless monster. It's because no one can bear that kind of load outside of God. So..... stop acting like you're God.
And yet doing nothing is clearly not an option. As disciples of Jesus, we need to be taking time every single day to ask God, "what is mine to do today?" and "how can I celebrate, pray for, or encourage others in the things that aren't mine to do?"
When you learn to identify the areas of compassion and mercy that God is uniquely calling you to focus on, you will have the energy to act in ways that make a real difference, rather than just feeling strongly about everything and doing very little about anything.
It's ok to release some things, friend. Your body wasn't made for this amount of stress.
Now, knowledge is power, and intentional ignorance is irresponsible. So we don't ignore suffering in our world. We pray, we invite God to stir us to do the right thing. And if it's not our main thing, we pray and we applaud the ones for whom it is, and we continue to give our energy to the thing that God is empowering us to do.
It doesn't have to be just one thing. But it's important for your own health to acknowledge that it's not everything. The calling to love is universal, but the areas of active compassion can't be infinite.
Maybe today, you need to pick one thing to do that makes the world a little less broken, and ask Jesus for strength. And then, turn off your screens and minds for once so that you can get enough rest to keep doing it again tomorrow.
Jesus, I need your clarity, your Spirit's power, and your promise of rest.