Skip to main content

fight, flight or invite?

We had a great conversation last night at church about how to deal with all the pain in the world. What do we do when it gets so overwhelming?

Many acknowledged there's always been bad news, but until social media, it wasn't always on our radar. We used to read the paper in the morning and watch the news at night. 

Now? If we choose, our brains and hearts are filled with tragedy, conflict, violence and hate just about any time we glance at social media.

Did God design our hearts to take in as much pain and hate as we are? I don't think so. At least, I don't think we're meant to take in all this pain and simply hold it.

That’s why it feels like we're hitting our limits. We talked about how much we need to put down our phones. Our brains and hearts literally cannot handle this much information. 

So where's the hope? What are we as followers of Jesus supposed to do?

I sense we are to look straight at the world’s pain. The pictures of survivors, house wreckages, our president throwing paper towels at hurricane victims and we feel what rises in us. Anger, fear, pain, frustration, hopelessness. We actually feel it for ourselves. And for the people physically going through the situation. This can be a form of prayer. Open up a Bible to the middle and you'll likely land in the Psalms. Read a couple of those after you read the news. 

Some of us stop here. We offer our thoughts and prayers and feel like there's nothing we can do to change the bigger stories.

The pain and anger fill us up. We try to cope with all the feelings and we shouldn't be surprised when they turn into anxiety, depression, avoidance, numbing, checking out and addiction to whatever made it feel better for a minute.

Or we go the other way and we become an activist. We share our opinions, march in the streets, attend rallies, contact our leaders. We turn our rage into action. A righteous anger. This is good. Until it’s not, because we can’t possibly sustain this for four years. The cup will run dry, especially if the protest is out of anger, and not out of hope of what could be.

It’s like Glennon Doyle has been saying lately, “It’s not just about fight or flight, there’s a third word in these times. Invite.”

I know about the fight. We resist and speak out in big and small ways. But, on it’s own, this isn’t sustainable. It can still feel like “one side” out yelling the “other side.”

I know about the flight. I run away and hide from the news on a daily basis. Trying not to care seems easier than letting my heart break open at each new headline.

I’m learning about the invite. This is local. It's personal. The invite turns the larger narrative that feels too big to change into something I can do here and now, in my community, today. 

Who are you feeling the nudge to get to know? To hear a new story, a new perspective, to curiously wonder if your way of seeing it isn't the only way?

Maybe it's time we put down our phones and had more real life conversations.

This new reality in our country is calling us out of ourselves. To new and more honest conversations about race, violence, gender equality, guns, patriarchy, discrimination and what it means to be a citizen in this land. The conversations are not pretty. They’re super awkward. But there’s something rising in the spaces of these connections. Is it awareness? Hope? Appreciation for another perspective? I’m not sure yet. But I sense it and it gives me hope.

So this is for my friends who are trying to find ground to stand on in this season when it feels like the bottom fell out.
  • Show up and feel the pain. Don’t scroll past it. Feel it. As Jesus people, we don’t get to walk away from the pain of our world. We walk into it with a deep hope that it’s never the end. Resurrection is coming.
  • Then put your phone down. Get quiet. Listen to the voice of the One who made you. Who whispers in the quiet what is most true. Listening to this voice has a way of releasing the pain. It doesn't ignore the pain of the world. You learn to hold the pain with a deeper love.
  • Love the people in front of you that day. Build beautiful communities of hope, grace and love. Resist hate in ways that make you come alive. Invite new friends into new conversations.
Our hearts are taking in a lot in this season. Be kind to yourself and each other. We’re all hurting.

Parker Palmer offers this thought and spiritual practice: Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain.

Then there’s the soft and flexible heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the flexible heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.

What can we do to make our tight hearts more flexible, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question we ask every day. With regular exercise, our hearts are less likely to break apart into a million pieces, and more likely to break open into largeness.

There are many ways to make the heart more flexible, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!

My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.

Palms up, friends. It's a great way to live.


Jackie George said…
Sharing our feelings in these dreadful times brings such hope. Thank you for guiding us to open our hearts and hands to God's love...Jackie
jenny said…
Thanks, Jackie. You're right on that we need to keep sharing how we're navigating these times. We each see it differently but we're in it together.
scatter_joy said…
I am grateful for your guidance in these times that cause fear. I've been pushing it away and it comes back in nightmares. I need to name it, talk about it and make space for my feelings and find healthy ways to let it go. ~Susan
Anonymous said…
Jenny, again you speak the truth for many, and eloquently at that. I thank God for you!

Most Read

Why Some Experienced Clergy (and Lay People) Have a Hard Time When Younger Clergy Take Renewal Leave

This is a guest post from my very own dad! He's a United Methodist pastor serving in Bend, Oregon. I enjoy chatting church leadership with my dad and it's fascinating to see how our generational differences bring different perspectives to our calling as pastor. We need each generation to walk with each other as we figure it out in this new world. We've been reflecting lately as I finished up a renewal leave and he prepares to retire this June. 
By David Beckett
I fall into the category of experienced clergy which is a polite way of saying I am old. I’ve been pastoring for nearly 40 years. When I was a young pastor my role models were mostly white males who presented an image of success that equated with dedication, overwork, and sacrifice. My first senior pastor talked about the 20 hr/wk he invested in sermon preparation. And he expected his staff to work beyond their stated hours. During those three years of full time seminary and a large youth group I put in up to 80 hr/…

Why pastors need collaboration, not competition

There's competition in every industry. Some get promoted over others. Some work incredibly hard but their gifts go unnoticed. Others do good work and people assume they're fine but underneath, they feel like they could never be honest about how hard life is in this season. People spend more energy figuring out how they measure up in a work culture instead of doing the actual work.

Competition itself implies there are two sides.

I remember field days at my elementary school in Alaska. The half-frozen spring ground was covered with clumps of dirty gray snow. Jackets were thrown on the ground as the fourth graders tried to beat the fifth graders at tug of war. Rope burns were shrugged off as sweat dripped down our young faces. We were determined to beat those fifth graders. Our pride was on the line.

Whether you're a fourth grader or an ad manager at a fancy marketing agency or a senator trying out for attorney general, competition runs deep in our DNA.

We want to be the bes…

99 sheep

Reading Matthew 18:10-14 on this cloudy Anchorage summer morning. Parable of the Lost Sheep. A guy owns 100 sheep. They belong to him. These sheep are loyal and depend on their owner for everything. But then one wanders away. I wonder if this sheep wandered on purpose or accident?

The guy leaves the 99 sheep grazing on the hillside to look for the sheep who got lost. One word in verse 13 jumped out to me. "Andifhe finds [the sheep]...he is happier about that one sheep than about the 99 that did no wander off." IF he finds it. This guy who owns the sheep probably knows the hillside very well and knows his sheep's behavioral patterns. But he may not find this lost sheep. 

When someone wanders off, it's up to them if they want to get found. 

When it comes to our connection to God, some of us may wander on accident. Or on purpose. 

We wait for someone to rescue us. Bring us back. Make it okay. But we have to turn towards the one rescuing us. God will leave the other 99 sheep…