May 14, 2008
Keeping in TouchWhen some of you saw the title "Keeping in Touch," I imagine your sweet hearts leapt with hope that this post is my firm, telling-the-world, turning-over-a-new-leaf resolution to finally be better about staying in contact with all of you. Unfortunately, I've tried the firm resolution route before and failed every time. Which is why you still don't hear from me.
But. You do, after all, have Strangely Dim to let you know I'm still alive and to give you a peek at what I'm thinking about. And here's the latest thing I'm ruminating on: keeping in touch with the world. I know--that sounds a little ambitious for someone who couldn't even keep a penpal growing up because I didn't write back often enough. But a number of events recently--both personal and global--have impressed on me anew the importance of learning about other people's reality. I'm scared by how easy it is--particularly, it seems to me, in the suburbs where I live--for me to go through a day thinking largely about myself--my own needs, my own schedule, the details of my day. Some of this, of course, is necessary; I need to pay my bills and do my job and show up for my commitments. As a follower of Christ, though, I'm seeing more and more how essential it is to be connected in some way to the reality of others--whether it's praying for people and situations all over the world through International Justice Mission's prayer-request lists, or reading a book like Greg Mortenson's Three Cups of Tea that gives me a picture of the hardships and hope of people in Pakistan or Afghanistan, or attending a benefit for an organization like World Relief that helps resettle refugees who've experienced deep trauma in their home countries, or keeping up with the news out of China and Myanmar.
These are small attempts, granted. Even with them I still get quickly and easily consumed by my own worries and concerns. Some days I wonder (like you might be wondering now), what's the point? How does a thought for others--my own little glimpse into their reality--help them out?
Well, maybe it doesn't. Maybe I am fighting a pointless battle or even just playing a game to make myself feel more spiritual. When I hear of the suffering of others, I do often feel the uselessness of my far-away compassion and thoughts. But what's the alternative? To turn a deaf ear? To be "ever hearing but never understanding; . . . ever seeing but never perceiving," as Jesus described the crowds to the disciples in Matthew 13? Jesus could never be accused of that--and as his follower, called to be like him, I don't want it to be true of me either.
The fact is, self-absorption is too natural for my sinful self that, if I'm not intentionally looking for ways to learn about or be reminded of someone else's reality, I'll start to believe (with help from our culture and advertising) that my life and reality are what matters most, and what most people experience--when really nothing could be further from the truth. Ironically, one reason I need to remember others is for me--to keep me from the self-centeredness that is tantalizingly easy to slip into. My small attempts are, in part, my way of keeping perspective on the world--both God's view of it and my place and role in it.
Furthermore, caring about--even when I can't actually care for--others is teaching me more and more about the heart of God that beats so compassionately and lovingly for the refugees, the children forced into slavery and prostitution, the homeless in Myanmar and Chicago. My glimpses of these people's realities give me a deeper glimpse into the heart of God.
Once we start looking, there are hundreds of ways and places to learn about the reality of others who live an extraordinarily different life than we do. It's something we can help each other do as followers of Christ, called to be like him. Post your comments about who you're mindful of and trying to learn more about. Are there books, movies, websites, organizations that help you get outside of yourself and learn about another person's life? Share them with us. (Then we'll feel like we're in touch again!!)
Let me add a caveat: It's certainly not only the thought that counts. Taking action in the ways we can in the places we're called to is essential. But for all the places we can't, thoughts and prayers really do matter in keeping us in touch with who God is, what his kingdom is like and who we're called to be as his people.