yours to carry

Something has bothered me deeply about the national discourse on Robin William’s death.  So much so that I didn’t want to write this post, because I didn’t want to use his name in vain.  I didn’t don’t want to use his death for my purposes.  I am not going to reference it any more in this post… but here is what I have to say.  His death isn’t about you.  It’s not yours.  It belongs to him.  And his family.

When something terrible happens to someone famous, we all have reactions.  We have opinions.  We have memories of the person, ways their life touched us or affected ours.  But the truth is, we didn’t know them.  They aren’t real to us.  We see glimpses, roles played, the public persona, not the person inside.  And so the loss of that person, while sad, isn’t world ending.  When something like this happens, and the world is captivated by the loss, the lingering public discourse always hurts me.  I can’t bring myself to click on the articles.  I don’t want to know the gory details, hear what the talking heads think, see the Top 10 Lists of best movie roles, their 14 best Golden Globe outfits, etc etc etc.  The truth is, this was a person.  They have friends.  A family.  Children.  And I can’t imagine losing someone I love desperately, and having to hear the rest of the world discuss them over the water cooler.

The same thing happens at our nation’s major tragedies.  I hate to see the reporters swarming a school shooting.  I refuse to read the profiles of the shooters.  I just don’t want to know.  Why?  Because in my mind, this person’s motivation was to become known.  They want the world to know their name.  To be captivated by their actions, their monstrosities.  When I refuse to click on the link, I refuse to reward the acts of terror.  We have to face it.  We have a celebrity culture.  We are watching the glitterati 24 hours a day.  In our country, to be important is to be famous.  To know about the comings and goings of the famous gives us something in common, something to talk about.  A seat at the table.

But here is the problem with that… we don’t actually have that in common.  We are just outsiders, looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s tragedy.  The heartbreak of the people on the news is not ours to carry.  We can’t bring them a meal, show up at the wake, sit with them while they cry… we aren’t a part of their life.  We are just gawking at them from the other side of the screen.

In a way, I believe that the best ministry we can have to those people is privacy.  Give them the space and the room to mourn.  Show support and empathy, but hold the spectacle.  Stop the discourse.  This tragedy isn’t an issue, it’s a life.  A person.  A person in pain- not that uncommon.  We spend our lives surrounded by hurting people.  People whose lives we can impact.  Stories we can carry with us.  These are the people that need our presence, our ministry, our attention.  Have an opinion on depression?  Suicide?  How much time have you spent walking alongside someone who has been depressed?  Sat with people who have been robbed of loved ones by suicide?  These people are yours to carry.  Engage with them, engage with your world.  Instead of blogging, commenting, or tweeting about these issues, it’s time for us to get our hands dirty.  To invite our neighbors, friends, and coworkers into our lives and communities, and to do life with those in pain.  We can talk about suicide until we are blue in the face, but no amount of awareness, no pithy statement is going to stop this epidemic.  That hope lies within the context of relationship; it lies in face to face conversations; meals spent together; loving faces to witness the darkness of the pit.

That’s how Jesus did his ministry- not in public announcements, press releases, or blog posts (parchment posts?) but in living life with a group of people.  The disciples lives were transformed during nights around the campfire, fish roasting on a spit.  Jesus was deeply involved his people, and those people in turn, transformed the world.  It’s easier to stand at a distance and voice our opinions… but the reality is that nothing changes this way.  Dive in… engage… be present. Be with the people you are with, not the people you watch from afar.

just show up

You know what matters?  Words.  Words matter.  You know what else matters?  Presence.  If you have a person in your life who is hurting, just show up.  Use your mouth to make words.  Pretty much any words will do- and they will be a blessing.

I remember who visited me in the hospital and at home when I had my babies.  I remember who came to my father’s funeral.  I remember every time someone has dropped off a gift when I feel discouraged, sent a text at a time when I felt alone… these things matter.  We crave to feel known, to feel seen.

There is a huge battle fought every time we have an impulse to show up in someone’s life.  When we feel a tug on our hearts to be there for a friend in a time of need, the items on our to-do list seem to start screaming louder.  You suddenly notice the kitchen counter is covered in dirty dishes.  The washing machine is overflowing.  The work deadline looms larger, and you remember a dozen errands you have been putting off.  We worry that we are intruding, that the person isn’t up for a visit, that it will feel awkward.  But still… isn’t it worth a try?

We hear time and again that time is the most valuable commodity in today’s society.  The way we invest that time is significant.  It tells us about our values.  It gives us clues to our idols.  It is a resource we can invest, either in God’s kingdom, or in our own agendas.  Investing in relationships is a difficult thing to do, because that time is… squishy.  It doesn’t feel like you are doing something with your time when you are spending it with a friend.  It gets you no closer to your goals, to feeling in control of your life.  Or does it?  

Guard against the tyranny of the urgent. The most important things will seldom scream for your attention, they will simply wait for you to discover them. Things like prayer, Scripture study, cultivating friendships, thinking, enjoying art. The loud and demanding are rarely as important as these.”
~Charles Swindoll

Investing in people pays dividends over time.  We are not built to be alone.  We need people in our lives, people to show up when WE need them.  Not only that, we need to cultivate the discipline of investing in others.  In being hospitable with our time.  I am guilty of neglecting this.  I frequently let the fear of awkwardness or the pressure of busyness override my urge to reach out.  But I am trying to fight it.

Here are my resolutions (for now):
When I am asked to pray for someone really pray for them.  And follow up later.
Send that text.  Write that letter.
Show up.  In hospitals.  At sickbeds.  When it matters.
When I am with someone… listen.  not just talk.  Ask questions about them.

Any other suggestions?