Why is it that we never need much of a reason for doing something fun? A friend of mine asked to take me out for my birthday recently. I didn’t text back to say, “Wow. I’m going to need to pray about that one.” I didn’t need a reason – or, at least, I didn’t stop to think of one. I just knew it sounded fun and I wanted to go. No need to pray, no need to come up with a good reason, no need for a robust theology, for a vision of a better world.
If someone tells you they are going to “need to pray” about something you can bet they don’t want to do it. I think, after all, we are hard-wired to protect ourselves from difficult things. Hard-wired indeed for the fun and the happy and the joyous, created to smile and laugh.
And, no matter who you are or what your life is like there is already plenty of suffering at your own front door and in your own spirit and your own family. The fall has had its effect on your own life, from beginning to end and in the middle parts too. No need to go looking for extra suffering.
So when someone asks you to bring someone else’s suffering into your life, and not only that, but your own home, you better have a good reason for doing it. Why deal with suffering you have nothing to do with and probably can’t fix anyway?
God says to care for the orphan. He also says to serve the poor. Surely there’s a way of doing that without bringing all of that suffering into my home especially when I have enough of my own crap to deal with. Especially when my home should be a place of peace and nourishment for me and my children and my husband.
I am realizing that if I decide to pursue someone else’s suffering – suffering we had nothing to do with – then I need to want to do it all the way down. I need to feel it in my toes. I need to know the theology behind the action inside and out and I need to feel the force of its truth reverberating in my core.
We had two 7 year old guests stay with us last week for a few days. (If you are unfamiliar with Safe Families for Children please take a look – you won’t be sorry.) They brought their own heartbreak and tragedy and dysfunction right into our family circle. It was pure hard work – the kind of hard work that made me ask myself many times a day, “Why in the world are we doing this?”
Josh took them home Monday night and then we sat on our patio, under the stars, beverage of choice in hand, and I asked him again what he knew was coming, “Why are we doing this again?” “What if it makes no difference to these kids in the long run?” “What if we are simply enabling poor choices?” You know, all the standard questions asked by Christians ever since the Church existed.
I didn’t want him to pull out the Bible. I know the passages. I didn’t need verses read to me. I needed a vision. I needed to be pulled into a world that is bigger than me and my small life. Because he’s a preacher and because he’s my husband he knew exactly what I needed.
He painted a picture for me of the Church as an Outpost of New Creation, a base of operations that signals greater and better things, a concrete place that is safe and beautiful, full of people who actually believe that one day the world will be made new and whole. And full of people who are willing to spend themselves to share that vision with others. I guess you could call it Kingdom. I’m liking Outpost these days – it’s what my imagination needed.
And as I was mulling over these thoughts and picturing what this kind of place is supposed to look like an analogy came to mind that I’m loving more and more. It’s Rivendell. Don’t you think? Frodo’s place of safety and nourishment and rest on his terrible and heartbreaking journey. If Elrond had insisted that somehow Frodo demonstrate change as a result of staying at Rivendell the whole purpose of the place would have crumbled. He welcomed the hobbits, even though they carried darkness and evil with them; welcomed them into his own safe haven, his own place of beauty; gave them the rest that they required, strengthened them for what lay ahead and then sent them on their way. Because, in the end, only the elves could give that kind of nourishment and strength.
I guess in other words, Rivendell was the cup of cold water we have been told to give to others.
That’s my working vision these days. It’s that picture that makes me sure we will do this again and probably again and again. You know, after we have dealt with our own mess for a while.