If you have been living in the US over the last 10 or so days, it may have been a bit hard to keep your spirits up. This statement is not to say that everyone's down. Certainly, everyone isn't. And some people have written beautiful, eloquent posts on how they are not really down, including my friend, Sarah Marple, in her blog, Water Water Everywhere.... And you should read it because it's lovely, beautifully written, and true for her. It gives me hope.
But I haven't bounced up so quickly, and that's neither right nor wrong as it isn't right or wrong for anyone to celebrate or not. And I don't think I'm alone. Our churches weren't more full, our children didn't bring home any more treats (in fact decidedly fewer), and there were fewer "Merry Christmas"es than usual from passersby. And this is okay too.
But what changed for me was not the enormity of the sadness that Sandy Hook brought down on us but the pervasiveness of it, just as my sinking in September was not because of the death of one parent-friend, but the death of four and the knowledge of So.Many.Hurting. And with it was the knowledge that so much could be done to prevent it. There is so much peace and love to be had if we just reach for it.
But we don't always reach.
This week, I've had trouble reaching. It takes real effort, real conscious decision, sheer force of will. I have not done nearly what I normally do for the holidays (although that trend started back the day after Thanksgiving). And God has been exquisitely kind to me.
Now you see, you have to understand. I do not always appreciate God's kindnesses. I know that He's kind, and I thank Him many times a day for food, for life, for the bills, for my kids, for my husband, for socks, for the car, for my neighbors, etc. I'm a big realizer that life is fleeting, and I would be an idiot if I didn't realize that God is my Provider. And I am thankful for that. I really am.
But I'm also a big fan of Nonviolent Communication, and I often find God to be a little low on the empathy side of things. I mean, there's a lot of times that it's just not there--like when Moses is standing on the edge of the Red Sea and he sees the Egyptians riding out to meet him. He maintains a cool front for the people--"stand still," you know, "the Lord will fight for you" (Exodus 14:13-14) and all--and he calls out to God. I don't know about you, but I would call out to God too. I would not be happy in that situation. No, sir! I would have some choice words to say. But God does not empathize with Moses. Not at all. He does not say, "I know it looks tough now, but I've got a plan." He doesn't say that. What he says is, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Exodus 14:15). And, you know, God and I have had words about this situation because I feel He is being patently unfair to Moses.
And I have looked for His empathy. It is there, but seldom. He shows it to Elijah before giving him Elisha. He shows it to Daniel when he stands confessing the sins of Israel. There are moments when I feel it for Isaiah and Ezekiel (though He doesn't save Ezekiel's wife for reasons this human can't fathom and for which Ezekiel regularly has my prayers--is that strange to pray to God to comfort the person that you feel God has ordained the hurt for? Or perhaps strange to pray for the comfort of a long dead prophet? Aren't they supposed to be too holy for all of this emotion? But I am irrational. Let's leave it at that).
And so I don't really look for empathy from God. I thought it wasn't His thing. But this last six weeks, His caring, His kindness, His empathy has been amazing. Little things--a card from my little one, a kind word from my big one (which is so rare--he just said, "You're pretty cool, dork," while he gave his brother a headlock this very afternoon, and that's about the height of his overt affection), a call from an aunt, a gift from another, a surprise kiss from the mother of a childhood friend--have come at just the right time. They are just the right things.
Some days I wonder what difference I can make in such a humble situation and such a lowly state. If I get discouraged so easily, what can I do? But that discouragement need not stand in my way at all. It is nothing compared to the unsurpassable greatness of the One I serve. Even on this humble night 2000 years ago, I doubt that Mary was much in the mood for visitors. I know I wasn't after delivering my children, and I didn't even have to think of cleaning up my room. Where to begin for her? What must the smell have been? And then to have a mess of shepherds want to come in and hold the baby??? I don't know about you, but I had trouble handing my kids over to anyone else--husband, mother, father, doctor. No way. I'd been taking care of that kid for the last nine months, and I was going to hang onto him just a little longer, thank you very much. But God had other plans, and Luke 2:19 tells us that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." God can change our attitudes too. He does have empathy after all, and it is astounding.
But He showed me something else too. He showed me He also works small to do great things. Sure, there are some really awesome big things He does big. Just read this for 6 terrific examples. But He uses small things too--loaves and fishes, tears, some water in some jugs. It is not the grandness of our gesture toward peace nor the observed magnitude of its ripple in our community. It is the eyes fixed on the One Who gives life and the feet walking, however slowly and with however tiny steps, in His direction.