I read about children separated from their parents at the border, detained in facilities no one should say are fit for human beings, trauma forever being etched into their minds, their bodies, their lives. I read about the fifth anniversary of the death of Eric Garner, and I wonder how time passes so quickly when justice isn’t realized. I read about my friend’s journey on an Asian-American Civil Rights Pilgrimage coordinated by her church, and I pound my chest at the racism and fear-driven rhetoric that was used during the Japanese concentration camps that is again and still being used today. I read about a writer friend who lost her husband to a freak accident. I read about someone whose child has been diagnosed with cancer before the age of two.
I listen to friends as they face shattered hopes of a marriage that won’t last as their wedding vows had intended, as I struggle in my own marriage to love and to cherish for better or for worse, till death do us part. I witness friends, who live with a river of grief and joy, of heartache and celebration, flowing in the background of their lives as they parent children with autism.
It all seems too much to hold, too much to take in at the same time — death and grief and injustice and sadness crashing relentlessly around me. There doesn’t seem to be enough room to take a moment, to breathe, to be present in it all.
Lament gets stuck in my throat; I don’t have the words anymore. And if I’m honest with myself, half of me wants to look away, to hide away from the pain of those around me. I want to shut my eyes, put my hands over my ears, and pretend that I don’t know anything, that I don’t have the power to change anything, that I’m not responsible to carry the burdens of others.
But it’s a privilege to be on the outer ripples of pain, to only experience the aftershocks of the initial ground shaking. It’s a privilege to even have the choice to look away, to even say that it’s too much. It’s a privilege not to be inconvenienced by the lives of others with the ease of clicking the x at the top corner of the browser window, at the swiping away of a social media app. It’s a privilege that comes at too high of a cost on the other to bear it on their own. It’s a privilege Jesus didn’t even consider to grasp.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death —
even to death on a cross.
Philippians 2:7-8 (CSB)
Love means being inconvenienced. It means having boundary lines redefined, having family and community be reshaped. It means values are reconsidered based on the red-letter words of Jesus, and it means choosing to stay in the pain, to not run away or look away, but to see, listen, weep, and bear the weight together. It means entering in and holding space and not rushing to solutions or placing blame or figuring out happy endings. It means sitting in the discomfort of unresolved issues and somehow still holding hope for a future, for redemption, even when it seems impossible.
Love means showing up, speaking up, and sticking around even when it costs us not only inconveniences but even more so, when it costs us our reputation, our relationships, our time, our energy — possibly even our lives.
It doesn’t seem to end, does it? — this barrage of loss and ache. It only seems to grow as life goes on. It can lead us to feeling hopeless, or we can stare at our own privilege in the face. We can acknowledge that our privilege doesn’t protect us or make us more like Christ. When we hold onto it instead of laying it aside, we miss the mark of what we’re called to be and do as people who profess faith in a God who broke down all barriers, who laid down every privilege He had, who took on all the pain, all the sadness, all the grief, all the death and said, “It is finished.”
Instead, we can make the choice to lay down our privilege like Christ did. We can make space to hold the agonizing pain of others even when we don’t understand its breadth, its origins, its long-lasting reverberations. We don’t have to know what to do next, but we can keep our eyes open, holding room for the stories to be shared, bearing the weight together — each person holding a corner of the cross.
We can do as Jesus did and be as the Holy Spirit is — parakletos, one who comes alongside, an advocate, a comforter. We do this when the tragedy hits, when the ashes of the chaos seem to settle, when the wind kicks up all the grief and pain in our faces again. We hold space even when our arms ache, and we remember that God Emmanuel — God with us — isn’t a sweet Christmas sentiment, but the very way we are to carry one another — with, together, alongside.
I hold the stories of those around me, and I repeat this cry of lament:
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
I imagine my prayer like the fragrant smoke of incense, making its way to heaven, where God, who weeps with us, will one day make all things right again.
Love while laying down our privilege means showing up, speaking up, and sticking around even when it costs us. -@gracepcho: Click To Tweet