I have only paid cursory attention to the hundreds of girls kidnapped recently by a militant group in Nigeria. And even when I have stopped to listen to an NPR update on the situation, I haven't registered any emotional response. I could have tried to get my heart to go there—I knew in my head the horror of their situation, and I knew that thousands if not millions of people around the world were advocating with great emotion on their behalf. But I didn't take the time, I didn't summon up the emotional energy, to go there.
Same thing for the Malaysian airplane that went down a few months ago.
And for the landslide in Afghanistan and the tornadoes in the Southeast and the recent avalanche on Mt. Everest.
All these stories caught my attention for a few seconds and then floated away, seeming almost as incidental as the weather report and book recommendation that bracketed them.
It may be that I am callous and cold-hearted and indifferent to the suffering of others. It may be that I allow myself to feel pain and grief only when it is personal, only in a self-centered way. It may be that I am cynical about the use of social media to create causes like #bringbackourgirls.
Or it may be—and I hope this one is the truth—that I have been called to care faithfully for a limited number of people and leave many stories of heartbreak and horror for others. By care, I mean that I not only have an emotional response to need but an active response. That I'm willing to put my feelings, my time, and my energy toward a limited number of people and causes. In order to care faithfully, there are many people and causes I will never care about.
On a very basic level, I care about people who live near me, beginning with my children. When our youngest daughter Marilee wept on the sofa this morning and said, "Mommy, nobody wants to play with me at school!" I immediately put aside my workout plans and held her tight. If a neighbor needs an egg, if a friend needs me to keep her kid for a few hours after school, if a colleague needs to talk through a problem, I help them. Because I care about the people in my home and in my community.
Over the years my circle of care has grown to include adults and children with intellectual disabilities (ID). So I don't simply care for my daughter with Down syndrome but I am also willing at a moment's notice to talk with a parent of a baby with Down syndrome. I give time and money toward efforts to educate genetic counselors and physicians about Down syndrome. I advocate for inclusion of people with disabilities in churches. I support organizations like the Special Hope Network, a ministry in Zambia for families that include a person with ID. When news stories pop up about people with ID who have been abused or murdered, I pay attention. I write about it. These stories keep me up at night and they stay with me for months. Sometimes I even weep.
As a Christian, as a member of the body of Christ, the hands and feet of the work God is doing in the world, I must care about someone somewhere. But if I try to care about everyone everywhere I lose sight of the particular people to whom God has called me. If I try to care about everyone everywhere I lose sight of God's overarching care for us all.
God is God and I am not. For that reason I will continue to let horrific news about all sorts of violence and terror in our world roll past me. And I will continue to weep and advocate and give money and spend time and energy caring for a few of the vulnerable ones among us, beginning with my children, extending to my community, and then branching out into the world in very limited and particular ways.