Does it feel like a lot is going on in our world right now?
ISIS kicking out Christians in Mosul. Strikes on Gaza to destroy tunnels, which were built to attack Israel. Ebola in West Africa. Syria. Central African Republic. Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17.
I am well aware that what we see as “going on” in our world is largely determined by what our news media show us, but having said that, we are being shown a lot right now.
I see people respond to this in one of several ways.
Some tend toward avoidance. They figure they can’t do anything about it so they might as well check out and watch something on Netflix. It’s anesthesia via entertainment.
Some tend toward fatalism. These things are all bigger than they are and they have no influence and so they resign themselves to life being as it is.
They end up subtly living their own lives with less faith, creativity and transformational presence, and end up contributing to the problem.
Some tend toward obsession. The more news articles they read about the same event, the worse the world seems.
These people wind themselves into a frenzy by intensely interacting on Facebook and liking or disliking things, but often not actually doing anything.
There are better responses. There is a better way.
I am a first-born child and so, fairly typically, I am over-responsible and want to get things done. I like having a to-do list and, even more, I like crossing things off it.
I am blessed in this season of life to lead an organization that has networks into many parts of the world. Often, we can respond and do something when there’s a crisis. But not always.
I sent an email recently to a colleague inquiring if there was a way to help in a certain situation that’s currently making the news, and the answer I received was that because of the situation, we have no contacts or networks there.
It hit me: There’s nothing I can do.
When we can do something, let’s do it. But when we can’t, let’s not devolve into avoidance or fatalism or obsession. The better way is a biblical way: the way of lament.
Many of the psalms are prayers or songs of lament, sung and said by people who were in situations where there was nothing they could do.
Rather than letting that helplessness corrode their souls, they channeled it into prayer—crying out to God, knowing that the redeemer and judge of the earth would indeed redeem it and judge it one day.
And then they got up from their praying and creatively participated in the work of redemption that was before them.
We, too, discover that in the end, lament is not doing nothing. Lament is a doorway to relocating us in the human-sized piece of God’s reign to which we are called. This is not about running the world but about seeding the kingdom where we are.
Lament also allows us to advocate for justice and peace in our world without doing so from a place of anxiety or obsession.
We steward our pain by lamenting it before God and then get up and creatively participate in the work of redemption that is before us.
This is surely a better way than our typical responses. When we journey the valley of lament, we avoid the pit of despair.
Sam Chaise is the executive director of Canadian Baptist Ministries. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Cut to the Chaise, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @SamChaise_CBM.