My husband recently teased, "What are you freedom fighting this week?" I snickered, because we both know how my empathetic tendencies get ignited when bedlam wreaks havoc on our broken world, and within the people to which we minister. I want to always be ready to battle for hurting people while pointing them to the God who heals. But too often lately, I find myself struggling to find a place to stand. The politicking, protesting, and terrorizing has just become too much; I am tempted to retreat. Apathy seems like the safest option when day after day our people and world are reeling from the latest disaster, but the desire to hide emotionally is a dangerous state to dwell in especially when trying to lead, counsel, and encourage others. Unfortunately, I feel it pulsing through me with each heartbeat.
I joke about our first world problems as hashtags trend about the latest atrocity and navigate away from Twitter, clicking my way to the more serene Instagram. I catch myself scrolling away from the links, and sometimes Scripture that promise to challenge, because I am seeking the lies of ignorance's bliss. All of this indicates to me that the time has come, again, to fight for my own soul. I lift my heavy head, taking my eyes off myself and fixing them on Jesus who offers rest to the weary soul (Matthew 11:28–30).
I know I am not alone in my temptation to be complacent and turn inward even while living outwardly in ministry, but I must be willing to take a personal inventory of what is making the shadows of comfort so alluring. These four questions help with self-assessment.
Am I Embracing the Loveliness of Lament?
When the news is filled with horror and tragedy, the leader in me impulsively turns to crafting words in an attempt to make sense of things. But I find it is often not my words that are needed, but my broken heart. This frequently shocks me silent; emotions swell high, and the flood leaves me quiet.
I have to learn to lament, and let go of the pressure to always guide. If I cannot listen, learn, and lean into the depth of the hurt, how will I ever help? Would I really risk being so arrogant that I would attempt telling people how to fix their problems without first trying to understand them? Coming alongside others means I must be willing to mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15).
I cannot be afraid to vulnerably experience how shared sorrow makes us stronger, and I cannot ignore the fright woven into this fallen world. As Esther Fleece says, "Lamenting is an essential spiritual discipline that we cannot forsake on this side of the Fall, because it offers us a way to keep the conversation going with the only One who can save us when life gets hard."
Am I Choosing to Celebrate with Others?
Can I rejoice with those who rejoice? Or am I so concerned with my own desires that when someone else experiences a moment of success, I ask, "Why not me?" When the headlines are filled with fear and death, I can find hope if I look up to see how God is blessing those around me. How many times have I missed the joy of being truly happy for those I call "friend" or cheering on the leader next to me because I was too busy wondering when it would be my turn? If this is the condition of my heart, I am robbed of joy, and deprive others of my excitement for them. Trusting in a good and sovereign God allows us to rest in his perfect plans and celebrate with others.
This celebration guards us from a scarcity mindset. Speaker and writer Cara Meredith doesn't pull any punches when she reminds us to "believe that our sisters in Christ are not our competition but our fellow contributors to the greater story. Being a woman in ministry is hard enough." Any ambition that rages within us will find its match in our God of abundance, so cheer on your sisters. The decay of our world is prevalent, but daily God is causing life to spring up. Don't forget that celebration can calm the chaos, or at least throw a dance party in the midst of it.
Am I Refusing to Feed the Narrative?
Though there is a time to speak, and voices must rise against injustice, there are so many opportunities to engage in public debate on open platforms that it becomes really easy to feed the monster I would rather kill. Am I joining in on promoting fear, bringing attention to rantings that should be ignored, and stoking fires that should burn out? I must ask myself if I am speaking when I should be staying silent.
A question stemming from Ephesians 4:29 has become a common refrain in my home, in the counseling office, and in my own thoughts as I speak, teach, and write. It says, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (ESV). I may be impassioned, filled with what I think is righteous anger or insight, and ready to throw down when injustice happens around me, but I always come back to those boundaries—build up, offer grace. If it doesn't do those things I am probably throwing fuel on a fire that need no longer burn.
Am I Acting as an Agent of Redemption?
The weight of the world is on God's shoulders, not mine. But just because I cannot fix the world doesn't mean I should cease seeking freedom and grace for others, or even myself. Because as Galatians 5:1 declares, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” As a steward of the gifts he has given me, I will not forsake the body of Christ by not playing my part. I can try to starve the volatility that threatens the peace within my own soul by fleeing from it, but it will still be there, whether I feed it or not. I believe the better way is to face it; not in my own strength but in God’s. For he is the one who brings victory to the victim, wisdom to the confused, and hope to the heartsick.
So the question remains: Will I get up, leave my comfort, and try again to do good? Or will I allow my broken heart to become further calloused? I cannot deafen my ears to the cries of people longing to be heard. I must heed the wisdom in Edmund Burke's counsel: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (or women) to do nothing."
In my prayers, my speech, and my actions, may I not hide but engage and lead others to a humble love of justice and mercy that reflects the God we serve in a world that proves its need for redemption daily. On that cross, Jesus felt the weight of sin's wrath so I need not, so I won't allow apathy to take root and strangle my hope for redemption. I will hope for the kingdom to come, and fight for glimpses of the kingdom to be present here and now.
Chara Donahue is a certified biblical counselor, writer, and speaker, and has been involved in ministry for the last 15 years. She is the founder of Anchored Voices.