Passion

I’ve been silent on the blog for a while. It’s not that I’ve been too busy to blog, though I have been busy; there have just been so many things weighing on me that I wasn’t even sure where to begin. So forgive me for this post, it is rough and possibly annoying. I just needed to give form to the vaguely inchoate thoughts that have been spiraling around and through me.

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How do we move when our joints have swollen with sadness?

Is there a way to spend an hour without feeling the ache of it all, to form a word without a silent cry accompanying each syllable?

When did I begin speaking exclusively with this pidgin fluency, this necessary fusion of joy and pain and vibrant fury.

Am I the greatest of hypocrites, to be so overwhelmed by the world’s suffering when only the most tolerable sliver is actually mine?

And is there any other way for me to be human?

I often think I’ll look back on this time of my life and label it as “important but unsustainable,” or, “a growing phase.” But would it really be growth to maintain desert-dry eyes when passing a homeless man or reading about another child being found in the garbage bins of China? Or does the growth come when I learn to sleep again, when I permit their tragedy to only affect me when it’s convenient?

I know, I know: I shouldn’t be rash. It is a gift to feel, it is a gift to have a “big heart.” Trust me, I used to barely register compassion. I’ve fought and prayed for this for years. But I can’t let it all destroy me because what good does that do? Who am I helping by clinging to my hollow exhaustion?

Well, no. I guess it clings to me. It and any number of symptoms that WebMD would like me to know may be caused by Ebola or the plague or something.

Anyway, I’m aware this isn’t ideal.

And yet I’ve finally started praying for Christ to make all things new.

I used to never pray for that. Life was too wonderful, too full of promise and potential. Jesus could wait.

But children are dying as I am writing this, as you are reading this. What can I do except pray for it all to stop?

I went to one of those foreign aid exhibits four or five years ago that had a prominently placed red light that flashed every three seconds. Each illumination symbolized the death of a child by preventable causes like hunger or war or treatable illness. We walked those aisles together, the light and I. We looked at the photos of a Romanian orphanage and its fly-covered walls and fly-covered children. We touched the colorless drawing of a young Indonesian boy who, at age four, had learned to draw a pile of corpses, two of which were his parents. We were together for all 19 rooms, each with its own horror.

Thousands of people have been through that exhibit, and I’ve often wondered how many of them managed to stop caring the moment they stepped outside, managed to put those images behind them, cut the power to that endlessly blinking light, go on and live a life free from awareness of tyranny and exploitation and poverty and abuse. I’ve often wondered how many of them had no trouble falling asleep that night.

Because that stupid light never stopped blinking for me.

And when people say I should find a way not to let it all affect me so much, I sometimes think that’s just because they want to be forgetful, which is to say undisturbed, which is to say selfish.

I feel bad about that. I know that’s not really what they want. They want justice, too. They aren’t monsters. They know pain. They know heartbreak. They also know, rightly, that awareness causes tension and responsibility, which cause strain and conflict. And isn’t one’s own life difficult enough?

But when we are one body with men, women, and children all over the world, when we are called to be servants to everyone, can our compassion have borders?

And when we serve a God who willingly had iron spikes driven through his wrists so that a people could know freedom and life… well… doesn’t conforming to his likeness mean we will be a people marked by blood and scabs and scars?

Have we misunderstood passion all this time? We think it’s synonymous with “excitement,” and we are told to follow it.

Yes, let’s.

Because our passion walked before us to a cross.

To be passionate is to be full of feeling, bursting with the fiery purpose of God, the restless desire to bring peace and love and reconciliation to a world in which death in all its forms parades across the land.

And how will we do this if our eyes and hearts aren’t open wide? We are the images of a God who made himself vulnerable to the full breadth and depth of human suffering. Perhaps he strengthens us not so we can overcome our pain, grow impervious to it, but so we can open ourselves ever more to the pain of others and not retreat back into ourselves, somehow moving deeper and deeper into vulnerability and the miracle of divine love.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’m young, which means I probably merit the pejorative dismissal of being “idealistic.” I’m sure I have sinned here in some way, as I tend to do.

But I also know I’ve never understood the love of God more than I do at this moment. I’ve never felt so strongly the passion that would cause him to die for us. I’ve never been so grateful or so motivated to be a part of this grand, unfolding narrative of redemption.

So even though I don’t know how I can keep living like this, I also don’t know how I could live any other way.

And this is why I pray that Christ will return quickly in a blaze of redemption and life.

Pray with me, please?

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2 thoughts on “Passion

  1. This post reminded me immediately of a quote I read a few weeks ago from Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. As most things by Nouwen, it is not a comfort for the moment, quite the opposite really. But in some strange way, the pain and longing that it causes does help:

    “When we say to people, ‘I will pray for you,’ we make a very important commitment. The sad thing is that this remark often remains nothing but a well-meant expression of concern. But when we learn to descend with our mind into our heart, then all those who have become part of our lives are led into the healing presence of God and touched by him in the center of our being. We are speaking here about a mystery for which words are inadequate. It is the mystery that the heart, which is the center of our being, is transformed by God into his own heart, a heart large enough to embrace the entire universe. Through prayer we can carry in our heart all human pain and sorrow, all conflicts and agonies, all torture and war, all hunger, loneliness, and misery, not because of some great psychological or emotional capacity, but because God’s heart has become one with ours.”

    I pray that your heart continues to be enlarged.

  2. Matt, I stopped by here to see your blog after the comment you left on ours, and I read this post. I can relate to what you’re saying here. When I was younger, I let my compassion blaze so hot that it consumed me and burned out. There was a period of years after that where I couldn’t feel any compassion. That didn’t stop me from acting compassionately, but it was no longer there to fuel my actions. I was very happy (and relieved) when it started coming back, but not having it for a while helped me to put things in better perspective.

    You have to learn to live in a way where your compassion won’t consume you, if you want to protect it. You also have to learn to ground your acts of compassion in something other than compassion, if you want them to be stable. My love for the lost and my desire to see them come to know God was the driving force for all my work, but that turned out to be a horrible task master in the end. Because there are always more people out there, and because many will never come to God, that drive can never be satisfied. I’m tempted to give you the answers to this that I’ve discovered, but they may be the kind of thing you have to learn by experience. The biggest thing has been seeing and accepting my limitations and recognizing that my purpose is to glorify God — something that my acts of compassion always serve, no matter how big the difference I’m able to make, and no matter how much suffering is still out there.

    But anyway, that’s way more than I was intending to write. I mainly wanted to direct you to this lecture by Joe Rigney: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/live-like-a-narnian-christian-discipleship-in-c-s-lewis-s-chronicles. I think what he says about King Lune might be helpful to you.

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