Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the suffering in our world.
When my kids were small, I worried about a litany of things – Their faith formation, their education, their nutrition, their choice of friends, their personal hygiene, and on and on. Now that they’re adults, I still worry about most of that stuff except for the personal hygiene thing – I think they’ve mastered that (most days). Of course, I have grandchildren who now require that I worry – they don’t know it, but it’s essential. They don’t even know how much my worrying will help them (me?).
I pray that my teenage granddaughters will enter into adulthood unscathed by the brutality of an often unjust, patriarchal society. I pray that my grown children will continue to find faith in God while worshipping in a Church that at times seems tone-deaf and completely out of step with their lives. I pray that my grandson’s kindness and caring nature will not be not drummed out of him by peer pressure during his teenage years. I pray that my younger granddaughters find a world that is sustainable and healthy and fulfills their every dream. And that’s just my small clan. My needs (and those of my loved ones) are minor compared to millions of others. So, I also worry about my neighborhood, my village, and my world. I worry about climate change, the war in Ukraine, the proliferation of guns in our country, child abuse, and discrimination in all its forms. I often feel helpless in the face of so many with such great need. So, I fret. And I make a plan to help someone. Or I pray about it. Or I plan to help. Or I plan to pray. Or I think about planning and praying. And then I don’t. I fail.
In her book “Jesus, Companion in my Suffering”, Joyce Ruff talks about compassion fatigue.
A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
Ms. Rupp supposes that Jesus was suffering from compassion fatigue and through sheer exhaustion he fell asleep in the boat. Perhaps being on that boat was the only physical comfort he had felt in days.
Those of us who have aged parents, or drug or alcohol addicted children, or a spouse who is battling a life-threatening illness, or folks who are facing insurmountable financial problems or divorce, can understand why Jesus fell asleep during a raging storm. We are often fatigued to the point of mental or physical exhaustion. And yet, we continue to do what we can. No matter how overwhelming the situations seem. We nurse our sick. We bury our dead. We comfort our injured. We listen. We act. We love. Mother Theresa said, “We can no great things; only small things with great love.” I’ll start there. I can try to stop worrying so much and do something. At least some small thing. Anything.
Of course, I’ll continue to worry. I will wring my hands and plan to make a plan. I will probably fail. But I’m trying to try. And I will keep trying. Acknowledging that I am limited and sinful and selfish is a good first step. Realizing that after that first step that there will be many more to follow on this journey, I will find solace in the fact that Jesus was exhausted, too. I’m giving myself permission to fail. There will be days when I will need to climb in that boat with Jesus.
And after a rest, I will try to carry on.