We have a good friend in an unfortunate situation right now. There are some avenues of relief open to this friend, but there is a stumbling block; an obstacle that, while on the surface appears easy enough to remove, in reality touches on some deep issues of pain and fear that paralyze him. Doing something which seems straightforward and non-threatening to me and others for this person feels for him like a risk that is simply too great. And because it is the thing that stands between him and hope for change in his situation, it may well be that he resigns himself to the continuation of his suffering.
It would be like the man who, having endured beatings and degradation at the hands of police officers throughout the span of his life, found himself in a position where he needed to seek out the authority of the police for something valid and good. It is understandable that the history of abuse could prevent this man from taking that step, and we would be hard-pressed to judge him harshly. There are reasons why people do not call the police where I live. There are reasons why I would turn and walk the other way when I saw a cruiser when I lived in Chicago.
So often when we engage the struggles of people who have lived beneath the weight of poverty, racial injustice, and what Jonathan Kozol called “savage innequalities”, we see a very simple, straightforward path toward healing or wholeness or redemption. Whether it is a gang member or single mom, we can operate under the naivete of our own privilege: just leave the gang, or don’t join one in the first place; just marry the guy who is fathering your children. What we can fail to see is the strength of the powers that oppress, and the damage that can be done over time. The ghetto is full of people literally and figuratively crippled by such forces. And may God have mercy on us when we so quickly dismiss the genuine struggle of learning how to walk.
I was fortunate today to spend some time in prayer with a co-worker in the quiet moments before the start of a meeting. As my co-worker prayed for me and for some of the ways that my spirit feels so conflicted, I was struck by a voice inside of me praying this prayer: Lord, help me to trust you again.
I think that I have sustained some spiritual damage from some of the things that have happened over the course of the last few years, and today I realized for the first time that I am struggling to believe that I can hope or trust in God to do good things for me. Ask me if I believe that God can redeem the pain and brokenness of South Central, and I will speak an emphatic yes! Ask me to speak on behalf of the amazing work of our missionaries around the world, and to share my hope in what God will do through them and you will have to shut me up. But ask me to speak of the “hope and future” that God has for me and I will lose my words. I no longer feel so certain of my claim to the promised land.
I realized in all of this that my friend and I have some things in common. And I wonder what the steps in my own life are that I am refusing to take because I simply can’t imagine that doing so could result in something good. Disappointment conditions. Faith calls us to believe in what we struggle to even imagine.
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.