Social justice must start with grace— grace in bringing justice to imperfect people. Grace for all the people who have confused or messed up your mission under the guise of helping [ why you should consider canceling your short-term mission trip ] and grace for yourself when your goals are just too big and you feel like a failure.
This is the first of a series of posts exploring the issues of social justice. I don't claim to be an expert, and this isn't really an academic resource, but rather a collection of stories-- a few beating hearts and faces to the flat and emotionless statistics we are all sick of.
Because before we ever even begin to help, we have to accept that we will never fix the problem or save the world and thankfully we aren't called to that.
We need grace as our plans go awry; when we plan to save a hundred people and end up helping just one. There is grace for us.
The Bible says to love, to sacrifice, to give, and to pray, but says nothing about obliterating problems of justice in the entire world. Poverty will never end. Abuse and bondage will continue. People will believe false doctrines of legalism and personal justification. All of that is heartbreaking, but that isn't the battle we’re fighting. We have to fight on a personal level. One person at a time.
Here's what I mean.
For example, the education system in our country is in a bit of a mess (which is another issue for another time). In my city, gifted and passionate teachers complain about a system that doesn't meet the needs of their students, their demographic or their culture. Very simply stated, the government creates an education system that looks pretty great on paper. It covers all the bases and supposedly no one is left behind— on paper.
The problem? People. Real people, stuck in a whole lot of different realities. These systems, regardless of such good intentions can't possibly account for the plethora of learning disabilities, learning styles, and complicated home lives.
A system doesn't know how to help a little girl who was born in Chicago but moved back to Mexico for 8 years and shows back up in middle school only half literate in each language.
All this to say, helping people is messy. Any type of justice is complicated and unfortunately never really follows a system. Plans look great on paper, but often crumble to the ground when they meet people. If you live only by numbers and checklists you will burn out in frustration, but if we start with love, accept grace over our inabilities and imperfections, and focus first on the real needs of real people-- it sure won't be easy, but it might just be a place to start.
Faith is something I am not accustomed to
And trusting other people is something I don't really love to do
It's like I'm standing in the rain and You offer me a rain coat
But I would rather stand there wringing wet than take the hand out -NF
I’m not naïve enough to think that when I’m struggling, that everyone else is too. Or contrarily, that when life is looking better that someone else isn’t in the depths of their own struggle. I guess the question is how on earth do we meet each other in these different places. How do I love someone who is happy when I’m hurting or someone who is weighed down when I’m floating in joy?
We don’t like to accept help. I don’t like to accept help. I like fixing my life on my own. I like fixing problems on my own and helping people on my own because there is some kind of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing something on my own. But most anything alone is lonely and exhausting.
[And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:20]
"It's like I'm standing in the rain and You offer me a rain coat
But I would rather stand there wringing wet than take the hand out"
But then I take on too much and am falling under the weight. But I work it out because I’m independent and capable. But then in seeps over to God, and I forget that I need him. We all forget that we need him. We stand there ringing wet, too prideful to take a hand out. But it isn’t a hand out. It’s grace from the God of the universe that I never deserved to begin with and now I refuse to take it because I choose to be self-sufficient.
Do you have a theme word for your life? Overwhelmed. That's mine. I am always using it in one way or another. Lately I'm pretty overwhelmed with the state of our world, our nation, and my community. It quickly becomes all consuming. I want to fix it all. I want to help everyone.
I wonder if we would relate to people differently if we first looked at how we relate to God.
Because regardless of who we are, we can agree that the way we relate to God affects the majority of our relations with things and people and situations.
And if we accepted grace from God...
If we dropped the need to be perfect— to hold ourselves together so well on our own that we deplete the need for him altogether— then maybe we could have a little more empathy and love to give to other people.
Maybe meeting other people where they are is directly related to where we let God meets us.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.[a]
A less than perfect day. One when your out of coffee creamer and you wish it was acceptable to wake up every day at 9:30 or skip the Spanish test and work and washing all the dirty clothes.
I figured a iced coffee on my way to work would make it better.
And isn’t that just how God works? He reminds you that he was right there all along.
Between traffic and stressing about things and asking God if he's forgotten me, I pass a man with a sign.
“Will take food over money”
I ignored Ben Rector's, More Like Love playing on my iPhone.
And the sign reminded me of a conversation I had just last night about homeless people only wanting money, not food. I scanned my car for any food or water bottles, but found nothing. So I drove on to get coffee.
And the lady in front of me who I told in my head to hurry up had paid for me. She waved as she drove away.
Then the tears came because that felt a lot like love and that coffee tasted like grace.
So I turned my car around even though I was late, and went back to the man with the sign because I want my life to be more like love. And grace is easier to give when its given to you first.
And we all have been given so much grace. Sometimes we just need to pass it around a little more.
Thanks for reading. I don't claim to be the best writer, humanitarian, servant or Christian, but I hope the realness here can be a bit of an escape. My heart overflows with passions, questions, thoughts, and love for Jesus. I oftentimes write just to remind myself of the things I need to hear, but I'm thankful for places like this to share about grace. I love you all more than Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookies with Caramel and Sea Salt.
I was 16 and he wanted to take a break.
Whatever that meant.
I was a mess. I laugh at her now. That girl who laid on the couch in agony thinking dramatic thoughts about how life couldn’t possibly go on.
But then sitting in a high school Spanish class bored and watching the clock tick magnificently slow as it clambered toward 2 o'clock--
I let my mind slip for just a moment and I thought of Jesus. I found peace as my mind drifted to the thought that He had a plan—that he held me and lavished grace on my mistakes. It only lasted for a second though until my mind drifted back to what that boy had posted on Facebook.
I wish I could be so spiritual that I could just dwell on Jesus all the time.
But oftentimes I’m still that emotional little girl.
These days I watch as future plans change and I sometimes lose my mind a little. I sit in Starbucks wondering how life could possibly go on when my scholarships don’t come through like I thought.
When I’m not where I thought I would be.
But then, just like that little girl, I let my mind rest in the truth.
Single or married, broke or really broke, educated or not, liked or judged, noticed or forgotten, pretty or passed over, on the good days or the bad days--
There is a love that covers a multitude of things. A love that gives hope and direction and purpose.
I’ll always have a little bit of that girl in me who lets the bumps in the road tumble her down the cliff. But I’m learning to cling not to empty sayings or lists of rules, but to love.
Life speeds by, rushing in every direction and whizzing past me faster than cars on the interstate.
I feel like most of the time I'm left in the dust wondering how I could possibly drink enough coffee to keep up.
Goals and plans— they all begin to seem unreachable when everyone else is reaching them and moving forward and your sitting in the background thinking that maybe if you were as fast and productive and motivated as them you could actually live your own dreams instead of them living them for you.
Let's be real, the pressure is outrageous. The pressure to perform, to get stuff done, to succeed. To be like everyone else. To not be like everyone else. You cant miss it for a second because the rules are constantly changing.
It is so easy to measure my success around the most successful people around me.
Sometimes I even measure my success against myself.
The other day I found my journal from last summer in Honduras. Those tear stained pages held one of my biggest seasons of growth and learning. I had so many stories to tell-- thoughts, emotions, ideas, and dreams.
I’ve spent 21 years worrying about what people think of me. I’ve learned to hide it, to mask it, and to make it look like I am just a perfectly naturally pleasing person.
But that leads me to perfectionism.
It’s a horrible cycle, really. I want you to think I'm respectable, responsible, and likable— therefore I must make perfect grades, look perfect, do everything thats expected and basically just hold myself to unreachable expectations that end in a Friday night Netflix and ice cream binge because I’m so exhausted and frustrated with failing at things that were never really expected of me in the first place.
But I am learning that there is an alternative.
This year, I decided to spend time seeking out people who inspire me— choosing to surround myself with them.
Here’s the problem with that: our christian red flag goes up because we think we must love everyone. We must spend all our time being strung out by those people who want nothing more than to bring us down to their negative level with them. Now sure they are good people— they probably have a lot of potential— but its likely not showing now as they mope and complain and just live unfulfilling lives.
I sure do.
As I sat down to write this post I ended up on Facebook, Twitter, answering a few emails, cleaning up my room, signing up for a free book club and editing some pictures. I am the last person that should be writing a blog about rest.
But yet I long for those moments of rest, so here I am telling you to rest as I am really just hoping these words I type will reach beyond my fingers and into my heart… into every fiber of my very busy body.
But even now as I sit here in my short time to rest, I fall prey to the distractions all around me.
Ringing from my phone.
Thoughts like arrows from every direction reminding me of things I forgot.
That to-do list calling my name from its deep burrow in my bag.
But if I sit just long enough to shove away the distractions I start to see something different.
A ray of sun seeping in my window.
The words in my heart reminding me of grace.
Walls scattered with pictures of my favorite places in the world.
How often, when we are hurt, do we resort to comparison? Convincing yourself and everyone else that you are better, or crawling under a rock of shame and frustration when you feel like your not.
We resort to comparison because it seems so darn satisfying to look at someone else's life, then compare it back at your own concluding that your life is better. Listening to the lies that say…
I am better
Call it a flaw, a problem, whatever, but here's a confession: I kind of struggle with the idea of vacation. I have never been a huge fan because honestly sitting around for seven days with no real purpose in the day tends to stress me out. Don’t get me wrong, I always start out with a positive attitude, but a few hours in, I am beginning to wonder what I can do. I want to DO something.
Before you start thinking that I am bragging about being some kind of passionate advocate who is so passionate she can’t even take a break, I'll tell you that I’m aware that this is a personality flaw. Yeah, I can snap into productivity mode chugging coffee and typing like fire and thats fine and good, but when it comes time to rest I struggle to shut it off.
"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength..." Isaiah 30:15
I read verses like this and try to skim over them. But they keep coming up.
I read over and over again words like trust, love, humbleness, rest, and peace.
I have spend the past few months seeing these words pop up every where. Verses like these seem to be chasing me, but it hasn’t been until recently that I stopped to soak in what those words really mean.
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:2
We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength, that we despaired of life itself; indeed, we had the sentence of death. But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. 1 Corinthians 1:8
Trust and love and humblenness and rest and peace… those things don’t flow from an anxious busy mind guided by a detailed to do list and calendar with every moment meticulously planned. They come from times of slowness. Times that to me seem purposeless.
I think we all come to those times. Honestly, I think God brings us to those times out of grace, in order to show us rest. For some people maybe it's tired nights at home after work when your far too tired to go out or an unscheduled Friday night that leaves you lonely. Maybe its waking up an hour before your alarm clock or being unable to go to sleep at night—it’s in those times of quietness we can worry and fret and search for something to do or feel plain guilty about doing nothing.
Or we can choose to rest.
We can choose to soak in truth from the one who holds all things; we can surrender our worries to the one who controls all.
“From the end of the earth will I cry to thee. When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than I.”
We shouldn’t have to lie to ourselves and say that everything is good--that life is perfect and we understand exactly where we are going. I think we find rest in brokenness, in confusion, and in chaos. What good is peace anyways if it only comes when times are good? I want a peace and rest that is higher than me. A peace that is higher than my mistakes, my shortcomings and this chaotic life.
Sometimes purpose is so easy to see. Sometimes its easy to carry out, and sometimes its difficult… but as long as you can see it, you can find some motivation for your toil then somehow it seems doable, worth it. What do you do when finding it is like looking for an end to the ocean?
This summer I went to Honduras with an idea of what my purpose would be: writing, loving on some kids, and encouraging the staff but then my brand new computer crashed, our internet wouldn't work, and I started to feel empty and in need of the love and encouragement I was supposed to be giving. In the midst, I still had a purpose…. it just changed a little.
As I look back on each an every situation and season, I can watch the story connect. There has always been a purpose—in the situations when the only word you can cry out is “why?” and on the days that rain down beauty and blessings.
Here in Costa Rica I have spent too much time asking “why?” Don’t get me wrong, I am beyond thankful to be here and have learned more than I ever imagined possible. I’m floored by the vast beauty that screams the name of its perfect artist. I’m humbled as I have gone from an educated student to speaking in a new language with the vocabulary of a 5-year-old. I’m amazed by people who have welcomed me into their homes, cooked me food, and filled me with love. I’m thankful for a little church I found in a library, full of international Spanglish-speaking misfits, yet some of the most honest, loving people I have ever met. I’m grateful for downtown exploring and city busses that never seemed to end up in the right place. I’m thankful for friends, new and old who have taught me more than I could ever have imagined.
Some days I have wondered what I’m doing with my life. What on earth possessed me to leave for so long and go to a place I didn't really know anything about. I wonder what I am supposed to do without a job, a place to volunteer, family, or friends.
I’m sure you would imagine I sit on the beach all day, but surprisingly enough I spend my days in classes, struggling in a subject I used to think I was good at.
I still believe there is always a purpose. The purpose is usually strongest when it seems invisible.
I’m in a weird place in life right now. Its been nearly two months since I left Honduras. In 3 days I leave for 3 months in Costa Rica, but my heart is still as broken and confused as ever.
What is life supposed to look like here in light of what I saw, felt, and experienced there?
How do I justify buying anything when children are dying of hunger, when families sleep night after night in the dirty desolation of the dump, and when so many don't understand the fact that there is a God who loves them in spite of their brokenness— someone whose love surpasses anything they could ever do and who wishes to lavish their mistakes, shortcomings and failures with grace…if only someone would tell them.
Its easy to get so frustrated about these things that I become counterproductive. Worrying more than I share, thinking more than I pray, and judging more than I love.