I ended yesterday by asking what happens when life tells you that you have no value. There are many reasons that this might occur. One of the biggest causes is poverty. It is possible to live in very poor conditions and know that you are valued. Wess Stafford talks of this in his book Too Small to Ignore. While the village where he grew up was incredibly poor, they were rich in love and in community. Of course, when life is so hard that each day is just about survival, you don’t even have the time to wonder whether you ‘have value’. Life becomes an existence, an hourly struggle. Also, I have no idea whether Wess’ experience of a loving community is common. I suspect not. And he speaks in heart-wrenching detail about the times when love was not enough to save the life of a child whose death was caused by poverty.
Why do we in the UK pay more attention to the suffering of our European neighbours than to that of those farther afield? It is not that to care about suffering is wrong, but, for example, I was in church during the week that Breivik murdered 69 people in Norway. Our worship leader of the morning offered a heartfelt plea for the victims and their families.
At the same time, and for a prolonged period, there was a famine of enormous proportions in East Africa, affecting people in their hundreds of thousands. I read on the BBC how mothers abandoned their dead and dying children by the side of the road. They showed a photograph of a young woman who had walked for 18 days with nothing but water. During that time she had given birth. There was something in her eyes that touched the depths of my soul.
Are you a mother (or a father)? If you are, can you imagine being in the situation where you actually leave your dying child by the side of the road? The very idea is so chilling, so horrifying, that I cannot even consider it beyond about half a second. Can you imagine losing all hope like that?
Our church did not pray, not even once (that I am aware of), during the weekly services, for the situation in East Africa, for the ‘victims and their families’. A few weeks later the pastor preached on feeling hopeless. I sat there thinking that the congregation would never in their lives experience the same kind of hopelessness that I had seen in the eyes of that young woman whose photograph was on the BBC.
Here’s another example: not long ago there was a cruise ship that sank in Italy, killing 32 people. In church (our new church by this time) the leader of the service offered a genuine and heartfelt prayer for the victims and their families.
Every year, six million children under the age of five die from preventable causes. That is equivalent to the total number of British schoolchildren.
And all from things that need not have happened. Not incurable diseases. Things like lack of clean water, lack of adequate sanitation, lack of access to basic healthcare, malnutrition. Illnesses as easily treatable as diarrhoea, measles and pneumonia kill under fives by the thousands every day.
In church, we seem to forget these little ones.
I do not criticise with these remarks. The prayers offered in church were (are) genuine and heartfelt and uttered with compassion. I have loved being part of both churches. They are filled with warm, genuine people. I just want to question why we find it easy to pray for our socio-economic European equals, yet not the huge numbers who are… what? Poor? Foreign? Far away? Why do they have no value?
The other thing that steals a person’s value is, of course, evil. Abuse, neglect, living in the midst of danger – all these things rob people of a sense of their own worth. If you learn when you are young that you have no value, how will you grow to be any different? It doesn’t necessarily mean you will grow into a human being who hurts others as they themselves have been hurt, but one thing is for certain:
damaged people make damaged choices.
Christians often seem very good at neglecting this truth, too, despite the fact that nearly everything that Jesus ever said or did was about the damaged, the wounded, ‘the least of these’. Many Christians wrongly believe that being a Christian makes everything all better. For many of us, the journey home (i.e. life) is long and arduous. The Christ who commanded his followers (not asked, not requested – commanded) to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ also told them to daily pick up their cross, to ‘deny themselves’. It is clear from Paul’s letters that although following Christ is filled with joy, it is also a struggle. St John of the Cross also makes this clear in ‘Dark Night of the Soul’.
I have not experienced poverty, not to anywhere near the same degree. I have always had food, clothes, a bed and a roof over my head. That is not poverty. However, I have experienced evil, and wickedness. I learned that I have no value.
But not long ago God came to me, and held me in His arms, and told me, over and over and over, “I love you.” Despite my resistance, an impenetrable core surrounding the innermost part of me, built over the years because I had to survive, eventually I let him in. It was excruciating, but finally, after three decades of believing I was (for some reason I could not fathom) not worth the same as other people, I learned that the most precious gift is mine. God loves me. And he does not let go.
‘…no one will snatch them out of my hand.’
So for me, while the attacks still come, I have the knowledge that I am loved, which always wins. And I know, too, that God desires everyone to know this love. You and I are God’s hands and feet. When we love ‘the least of these’, Christ is present in both the loved and the lover, the giver and the receiver. Which is which? They bless each other. This truly is a miracle.
I am not sure that I am making much coherent sense after a day studying mathematics and stopping children from tearing the house down and currently trying to ignore the autistic wittering (I love the boy, but he repeats himself a lot… and he talks a lot of nonsense). It’s just… when I read what Shaun said he was going through after coming back from Tanzania http://shaungroves.com/2012/05/pray-me-through-compassion/, I recognised the exact same emotions that I regularly go through, because of the conflict between the repeated trauma of my past, my needle-sharp awareness of the suffering of others, and my family’s ever-growing stability (I’m so not used to it!). The timing of the blog post was just so perfect, in a way that only comes from the holy spirit, that I sensed God prompting me to explore the reasons why – as part of my own healing and as part of my growing sense that my life, and all that I have been through, have a purpose… even if I can’t see it yet.
I have a growing desire (a burning passion would be a better phrase – but I’m so wary of having dreams) to be a Christian writer and speaker. This blog is the beginning of that – I just couldn’t keep it all in any more. It doesn’t even matter if no one is reading this. I have to follow. What other choice is there?