Orlando. Minneapolis. Baton Rouge. Dallas. Simply mentioning the heartbreak, anger and violence that is breaking out in America is emotionally exhausting.
If you’re like me, it’s natural to feel like there’s no way to be a voice of hope in a broken landscape, fraught with tension.
But the truth is, we’re not as helpless as we may feel.
By cultivating intention, empathy and humility in ourselves, we take important steps toward becoming people God can use—people suited and prepared to actually lead us forward out of this mess we’re in. For as long as we worship and serve an all-powerful God, healing of our America isn’t off the table. And by practicing prayer, prudence and compassion during dark and frightening times, we grow stronger, wiser and more capable of understanding—all qualities essential to defeat the anger and hurt that threatens to rip the fabric of our country to shreds.
Pray. Every. Morning.
If we claim to be people who believe in prayer, there is absolutely no excuse not to be on our knees in broken desperation for this nation every morning. When evil manifests its power, our first instinct should not be a tweet or a share. It should be a humble, pleading prayer. An admission of weakness. And a plea to a Holy God for leniency.
Prayer might feel like the opposite of taking decisive action to confront a society overtaken by violence.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. By setting an alarm just five minutes earlier in the morning to engage with God in a prayer for our country, we do at least two things. First, we send the message that we trust Him above all other forces to direct the future and for our good.
Second, we set a tone for the rest of our day that informs our sensibilities as we search for what justice truly is. As we campaign as allies of Justice, there is only one set of scales that matters—the eternal one. It ignites our hunger and thirst for righteousness. And it puts us on alert to see the plight of those around us like nothing else can.
Stay Off of Social Media.
There are more ways than ever before to communicate our feelings and opinions to each other. And with every new method of communication that arises, we seem to lose the ability to genuinely hear and interact with other points of view. It’s reminiscent of the Tower of Babel, except now our own biases and hashtags of choice make it impossible to hear what each other are saying.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll read a Twitter argument that manages grace, calm, clarity and truth within its 140 character limit. And while Facebook may bring us many things, political eloquence isn’t one. Brilliant scholars and political pundits spend their lives trying to distill and understand the forces at work in our nation that make things the way they are, and they still can’t simplify or explain our national identity.
While it may feel good in the moment to share our feelings of loss or empathy with our “social network,” the truth is that the only person your sentiment benefits is you. It won’t change anyone for the better. It won’t shift a paradigm. Facebook cannot comfort the grieving, and Instagram cannot bring peace to the broken-hearted.
At best, sharing a reaction to a national tragedy may be cathartic for the sharer. At worst, it will not only fail to encourage the reader, but instead, bring their frustration and misunderstanding to the forefront.
The prophet Amos (in chapter 5) tells us that smart people will keep their mouths shut in evil times. This does not refer to being silent in the face of blatant injustice, which we are specifically instructed not to do. Rather, this verse admits to the violent and ignorant nature of people that are given over to hopelessness and vengeance.
Those individuals hear only what they want to hear, and will twist and sharpen even the most innocuous-sounding remark until it is sharp enough to kill with. So in the event of senseless tragedy, the best place to go to process is not to your desktop. It leaves too much room for destruction. We should venture instead to connect with our neighbors—our actual neighbors. The ones that see and hear and live alongside us.
Make Eye Contact.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of living our faith in America is staying aware of what it’s like to be other people in this very same America. To reject the notion that American ideals of freedom, fairness and acceptance fundamentally contradict one another in a way that cannot be reconciled. But when confronted with the unspeakable, unfixable and unfathomable, the easiest and most human thing to do is to simply look away.
When we seek out only those that agree with our predetermined understanding of the life-or-death issues at hand, we reveal ourselves to be cowards. We deceive ourselves, hiding in the dark. Jesus would say that the truth is not even in us. When we parade our ignorance of other lives and denominations of belief, when we brand other people as “types” of human beings and when we make assumptions about what it’s really like to be a survivor of oppression, we reveal ourselves to be fools. When we rally around causes we do not understand, when we let our emotions dance along to the tune of whatever media narrative rules the day, when we make judgements in the absence of facts, we are not banner-carrying, Christ-empowered, anointed prophets of God’s love. We are clowns of a parade grotesque. There is no divine honor in such behavior.
But when we understand that there is no shame in questioning, when we work out the truth of what pains our country, with fear and trembling, we can find salvation, there. When we dedicate ourselves to continuing to examine our own actions, we become more than the sum of their results.
Most importantly, when we continue to see our fellow Americans—be they gun-owner or pacifist, protester or police officer, refugee or resident—as our friends, our gifts, our neighbors, we begin to have a fighting chance at spreading hope to one another. Embracing the pained, no matter what pains them, and modeling forgiveness based on martyrdom, not media attention, is literally the most important work that we can do.
If we can find it in ourselves to continue to offer love, naive and bleeding, to our enemy, we have at last understood what Jesus meant by His commandments. Not blind to the world around us, but informed of what it has taken, we can stand at last as Christians with something to offer. A cure we have become intimate with, a balm and an antiseptic. And there is no greater thing—no greater love—that we can give.
But without our full attention, devotion and self-reflection, we run the risk losing our country, and ourselves, in the process.
Kathryn Watson is an arts and culture writer based out of New York City, asking questions about who we are and what we are becoming. Kathryn contributes essays, culture coverage, and reporting for national publications like Medium, PASTE, and Brit + Co. Follow her on Twitter @whatkathrynsaid.