Today I awoke to yet another compelling and heartbreaking image from Syria of yet another little boy whose story stops us in our tracks. It was almost this time a year ago that the image of Alan Kurdi emerged and completely changed the way I lived my life. I was confronted with the uncomfortable reality – what was it going to take for me to care enough to truly engage with the brokenness in our world?
These images are stark reminders of the reality our world is in, and yet these boys, and the millions they represent, feel like a world away from my reality. I have been trying to write this blog post for the past couple of weeks, finishing it is the only thing I can think to do in response to this image of Omran Daqneesh, and those who face this same reality every single day.
So often I am asked, (and indeed, ask myself) – What can I do that can make a difference to the pain and brokenness around me? How can I respond to injustice in the world?
The refugee crisis, racial division, immigration atrocities, human trafficking, global poverty, discrimination toward anyone who is “different”… where do we even start?
It is all too easy to become overwhelmed at the complexity and weight of the issues. Being overwhelmed is taking it upon ourselves, and Jesus never called us to do that.
I believe that God created our world, and part of that realization is understanding God’s heart for justice, and the role He has for each one of us. God created this world to flourish – every part of it, and as followers of Jesus, we are invited, and I believe, guided, by the Holy Spirit to join Him in His work of setting all things right. When we have a genuine revelation of this, it takes the pressure off us to carry the weight of fixing anything in our own strength.
But, we also must remember that God’s invitation to us to be restorers and reconcilers with Him is not just a suggestion, it is actually it is what He is calling us to do.
Our passion for the needs of this world must come out of an understanding of God’s heart for justice. – ‘The Justice Calling‘
These past 18 months I have faced much of the darkness and brokenness our world has to offer, including sitting with, observing and learning from: peacemakers in the conflict-ravaged Holy Land; those finding food for their families from rubbish dumps in South America; refugees fleeing war and devastation in the Middle East; girls and boys being trafficked and exploited for their bodies in South-East Asia; and those all over the world being held in prison, oppressed, discriminated against, or denied opportunities purely because of the color of their skin or the country in which they were born.
So often, when we face issues of injustice, we have an overwhelming urge to fix, to be needed, to swoop in with all the answers and be the knight in shining armor that saves the day. When we realize that we don’t have all the answers, our response is usually to turn away, to try to ignore it, not because we don’t care, but because we don’t know what to do – because we can’t just fix it.
So what does it look like to play a part in “setting things right”?
God invites us to lament rather than despair as we face suffering & injustice.
In each of the situations I described above, people I have met, places I have been, areas of injustice that began to break my heart, I had to do a lot of deep learning, I had to be willing to sit and listen, to put aside my prejudices, my fears, my rights, my privileges – and learn to see the humanity in others, learn to see the image of God in every single person. Honestly, I was ashamed at how much of this I was so blind to.
It was in sitting in the brokenness and oppression of another that I discovered that my perspective was not the only one. That my worldview was limited, and needed to be expanded.
It’s really hard to engage in an issue that we don’t really understand. And so we’ll turn away because it seems so hard and we don’t know what to do – but this is where we need to press in.
Firstly we need to learn to just sit and face the brokenness, to look in the face of devastation and despair, to allow our hearts to be completely broken, to grieve the pain that someone else is experiencing… and when we think we have done this long enough…do it some more….listen to the voices and the stories of those being oppressed, really hear what they are saying, don’t judge, don’t try to find answers, just try to feel their pain….stay in the discomfort a little longer than you want to, longer than you feel you can bear to.
This is unnatural; our instinct is to find an answer, to try to fix a situation. And voices will come that tell us we have it figured out, that we have the answers. But we need to learn to quieten those voices, and listen some more. When we want to rationalize and provide justification or excuses for things (ie. ‘this group of people have brought this injustice upon themselves because of XYZ’ or ‘if they would just change then all would be well’ etc), we must learn to move past those thoughts, and keep pushing deeper.
This is learning to lament the pain of another, and to stand in solidarity. When we do this, we do not give into despair, but instead we hold another’s pain, we can then begin to look for hope.
When we know someone’s story and learn the reality of another, everything changes. What is breaking your heart, what is God potentially stirring in you?
- Do all you can to get educated on that issue. Also understand that it takes time to really understand the complexities of many injustices, a lot of time. Listen to all the voices, see who is doing what, find areas in your own community where serving that injustice exists, and find ways to engage and learn locally.
- Resist the urge to figure out how you can fix it, take the time to really learn and understand. This is difficult because it can feel like we are not doing anything to bring substantive change, but in reality we are changing ourselves. And this will change the way we interact with every person we come in contact with, which in turn changes the way we engage with our own society and ultimately the world.
- Fighting for justice for others is no easy task, and when it gets hard the temptation to give up is real, the excuses will come – doubt as to what you can really do, fear as to what others will think if you speak out on something, the need to self-protect, an unwillingness to give something up…and the list goes on (I know each of these all too well).
- Intentionally look for beauty & joy – in every area of injustice, these stories exist, find those who are shining lights of hope, those who are working for peace and reconciliation, be inspired by them, learn from them, tell their stories.
So, don’t disengage from the brokenness, don’t look away, and don’t be overwhelmed. Lean in, allow God to break your heart and show you His heart for all of His creation, and take the time to figure out the role He would have you play in being a restorer and reconciler alongside Him. I genuinely believe that as we go deeper and learn to face the pain of an area of injustice, God will show us the unique role He has for us.