We’re mad, frustrated and feeling powerless.
We don’t know if we’re more angry at our country (corrupt politicians, budget battles, greed), our Church (sex-abuse scandals, closed decision-making, backsliding on Vatican II), or the world (environmental degradation, wars, poverty). We could go on, but that would just stir our anger.
It’s easy for us to feel overwhelmed and helpless in the face of the many natural disasters, blatant injustices and personal tragedies in our world. Are earthquakes, tsunamis and droughts worse than in the past, or are we more aware of them due to modern communication? Injustices tear at our hearts the most since they are under human control. Terrorism, corrupt governments, oil spills and pollution are mammoth problems of human making. Personal tragedies like death, divorce or lingering illness can devastate us. We wonder: How canGod allow such suffering when we try so valiantly to do what’s right and pray so hard?
What’s a Christian to do? Wallow in grief or guilt? Rail at God? Give up? Grieving is O.K.—for a time. Even getting angry at God is human. The psalms are good examples of people pouring out their grief and anger to God. (See Psalms 22, 55, 57, 88, 94 and 102 for a start.) Don’t worry. God can handle our strong feelings.
There comes a time, however, when we have to pick ourselves up and carry on. The following actions have helped us when we’ve felt overwhelmed or powerless in the face of problems and evils in our world.
Susan found a way to let go of her anger through consciously noting one thing each day for which she’s grateful. When she starts fretting about the ills of society, she calls to mind that at least our home has electricity and running water; we finally decided on which car to buy and had the money to buy it; her back pain and cold left in time to enjoy a weekend of dancing; or there’s a gentle breeze on a hot day.
*Pray in solidarity
Of course we pray, both personally and at Mass, for people affected by natural disasters and tragedies of all kinds. But this is the easy part and can sometimes sound trite. Have often have you said, “I’ll pray for you,” and then forgot to follow through?
Adding our bodies to our prayers through fasting or other sacrifices can build solidarity with the victims and reinforce our prayers. Perhaps you decide to fast from desserts for a week to be in solidarity with the families starving in the deserts of Somalia. Or you might lend your body by picking up litter in a park. Meditate as you bend.
*Take a step
Actions put feet on prayer. If you’re already feeling overwhelmed and stretched, remind yourself that you don’t have to eradicate poverty or war today—or alone. Can you take one action step in the direction of change? It might be as simple as signing a petition for a political cause about which you feel strongly, writing a letter to your congressperson or making a small donation to respond quickly to a crisis. This won’t solve the whole problem, but it gets you out of the starting gate and relieves undue guilt.
*Protect your sanity
When taking even one step feels like too much, you might be right. Sometimes we’re truly maxed out and have to trust others and God to take care of the current problem. You might be in the midst of a personal crisis, taking care of aging parents or juggling work outside the home with the demands of raising young children. Count what you’re doing as contributing to society and call it “enough.”
Those of us with just the ordinary demands on our time, energy and money have the responsibility to think bigger, to consider a second or third step. We must go beyond the human temptation to throw up our hands, turn off the news and say, “It’s too big a problem. I’m only one person. I can’t make any difference.”
Consider that your strong emotion of anger or helplessness may be a call from God to act. You’ve been touched and moved. Evaluate your existing commitments and think about a bigger step you could take. Jim recently helped develop a Pledge for Just and Humane Immigration Reform. It includes a menu of actions that people in the pews can take. See www.MSJC.net.
If nothing else, give a bigger donation. The key here is to take on only what you know you can and will do, and celebrate that contribution. Don’t be afraid of stretching yourself a bit.
*Make a friend
Although the Internet and the media can add to our stress by making us aware of more global problems, they can also be vehicles for connecting with others who care about the same things. Whatever problem is touching your heart, there are probably others who have organized a group that’s already working on it. All you have to do is find them. Besides, having others to work with is motivating and can refine bigger ideas. Alone we can be ineffective or misguided. Together we can be genius.
What’s faith got to do with?
Jesus spent his life showing us how to deal with adversity and how to be neighbors. And what did it get him? Crucified! If we’re following Jesus, we shouldn’t expect comfort and ease, rather, we need to spend ourselves for others and learn to love better. Modern-day prophet and cofounder of the Institute for Peace and Justice, Jim McGinnis, wrote: “In the face of escalating violence, let us escalate love.”
Q. The evening news depresses me. How can I maintain a sense of hope in a world that seems so full of despair?
A. If we take seriously what we hear in the news, we can easily be overwhelmed by the negative. Yet it’s addictive: We come back for more, somehow needing to learn more about just how bleak the picture is.
What I recommend is that you become a good steward of the information you let into your soul. First, choose one reliable news source that you trust and a commentary that’s somewhat neutral. Look for that media source that suits your lifestyle (e.g., a newspaper vs. a Web site). Then, limit the time you connect with this source. It’s helpful to listen or read with a heart of prayer, lifting up the concerns that the news provokes.
Q.Where can I find positive news of good things happening in our world to share with my children?
A. Good news is all around us. Begin to train your children to see it. It’s simply a life lesson in having a positive perspective. I suggest challenging your children to find one good-news item per day. Guide them by pointing out good news that you hear on the radio on the drive to school or soccer practice.
Cut out newspaper articles that share good news and begin a collection on the refrigerator door. If you wait until the end of the nightly national news, you’ll often hear a good-news story. Finally, pray together with your child at the end of each day, thanking God for three good things that happened that day.
Q. How can my parish become more of a beacon of hope for its members and the larger community?
A. It’s all about action, not words. Here are a few ideas: Celebrate those who make a difference by acknowledging them on the parish Web site. Have a Super Service Saturday during which parish members do home repairs and yard work for parishioners in need. Follow this with a chili supper for everyone involved.
For Sunday liturgy, write hope-filled intercessions that are specific to your community. Start outreach projects that get parishioners involved in soup kitchens, childcare ventures and hospice care, etc. Actions like these magnify God’s light in your parish without saying a word.
(for praying alone or with others)
Preparation: Place a large lighted candle (or Advent wreath) on a prayer table. Have a basket containing votive candles nearby.
“Christ, Be Our Light” or “This Little Light of Mine”
Emmanuel, our hearts are heavy with the state of our world. We need you as savior now more than ever. Come, Lord Jesus, and turn our despair into hope, our turmoil into calm, our fears into courage. Amen.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Long-awaited Savior, our world needs your saving power. Give us the light to be your healing presence. Let us be beacons of truth, compassion and love. Amen.
I invite you each to come forward, take a candle from the basket and light it from the Christ candle (or Advent wreath). As you hold your little light, ask the Spirit to inspire you to action. Keep this candle as a reminder to be a light, a sign of God’s love in our world.
May the light go forth from this circle of love. And may God bless us in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.