What I Do When the World Around Me is Falling Apart
" I just hope when the day is done I've been able to tear a little corner off of the darkness.” —Bono
We’re two full months into 2022, and my grief already feels chronic. Maybe you can relate. Every week of this new year has been filled with at least one story of devastating tragedy or heartbreak from those I know and love. But, it culminated last week as I joined the world with my attention focused on Ukraine and the war raging there.
Since moving to Cincinnati in 2014, I’ve had two specific seasons prior to this where several in my community have walked through immense suffering and grief. My life was plodding along fairly normal, but the lives of so many I loved and cared about were thrown into tailspin. Each of those seasons formed me in pretty distinct ways, and I learned a lot about how to personally navigate communal grief.
As I sat glued to my computer on Thursday and Friday last week, I started jotting down what I’d learned over the past 7ish years, and how my past might inform this season of life where I find myself.
Below is that list, fleshed out and given form. The examples I give are mostly specific to the heaviness I feel around Ukraine, but they also have application for personal life if you’re like me, walking alongside others in the midst of suffering.
Here are eight things I’m doing right now as I feel the brokenness of this world, feel the shadows deepening, and hear creation groaning.
I am bearing witness.
“Attention is the most basic form of love.”
We can honor the stories by quieting our own voices and giving ear to those enduring suffering and let their stories animate our understanding of what is happening. This includes bearing witness on a personal level to the stories of my friends/community and seeking out stories of what’s happening globally.
Two Ukraine specific items. This very short video below has held my attention all week. I’m also appreciative of the work Meg Conley is doing over at her newsletter, Home Culture.
Please note: I’m unable to verify when this video was recorded. Whether if it was last year or last week, it is still an opportunity to bear witness to the faith of these brothers and sisters amidst a time of geo-political uncertainty.
Pray ultra-specific prayers.
This is a tip from Catechesis Books’ Instagram page, and I loved it. Pray that cars waiting in line to leave the city will miraculous have enough gas to cross the border. Pray for nursing mothers to maintain their supply under this stress. Pray for access clean water for the immune-compromised and most vulnerable. You get the idea.
If you have the resources, give to a vetted organizations and individuals who are doing boots-on-the-ground work.
Work and serve your community.
I spent a lot of Friday coordinating last-minute details for an event at my church. Won’t lie. It felt little weird to be figuring out who would be eating what for a dinner while watching news of an invasion unfold on my computer.
But, it was my small work of the day. And in a very roundabout way, it was a way I was bringing peace to the place I’m called to.
Along with that, I spent a bit of Sunday and Monday cooking for folks in my community.
Did that do anything to help those suffering in places far from me? No. But it tore a bit off the darkness in my home.
Feast + Laugh.
I spent a lot of last weekend with friends, eating good food, drinking good coffee and laughing. As I was preparing for the weekend on Friday, it felt disjointed as I was tracking the news in Ukraine and checking a friend’s CaringBridge for news about her surgery to remove a cancerous brain tumor.
But then, I was reminded of these words from Every Moment Holy.
“To gather joyfully is indeed a serious affair, for feasting and all enjoyments gratefully taken are, at their heart, acts of war.
In celebrating this feast we declare that evil and death, suffering and loss, sorrow and tears, will not have the final word.
May this shared meal, and our pleasure in it, bear witness against the artifice and deceptions of the Prince of the Darkness that would blind this world to hope.”
I’ve learned that there’s a difference between numbing and distracting from pain, and purposeful acts of joy and happiness undertaken to push back against evil’s desire to define our existence and prove victor. Through feasting and laughter we live into the reality of the Christian faith, the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, a kingdom of justice and joy where King Jesus will bring liberation to the captives and bind up wounds of the brokenhearted.
So, let the battle be joined.
Sing and weep.
That said, I’ve spent a lot of this year weeping and praying through song. These two song have given words to my prayers.
A few other favorites…
Do something tangible to embody the story of right now
This week, my kids and I buried the Alleluia with friends in observance of Lent. This is something I’ve had plans to do for weeks, but is more timely than I could have imagined. This is a season where our mortality is evident, and saying goodbye to a proclamation of happiness—Alleluia— is appropriate.
And I pray that when we bring out and hang up the Alleluia on Easter morning, the joy and hope of Christ’s resurrection will be deep in our hearts as we’ve contemplated our brokenness and death during Lent.
Did I mention prayer?
Right now, I’m in the final pages of a book of letters penned by John Newton. The time Newton lived was politically contentious, and his latter years were filled war and rumors of war. All of this unrest was in addition to his clergy work and his calling as a beloved friend, neighbor, and husband.
And as he reflects on the wars and geo-political unrest, he gives thanks for those who are serving the country in various ways, then he writes (over and over) that one of his callings is to pray. Here’s one small sample.
“I pray for peace, but I know the Lord alone can give it. I know not how I can serve my country, but by prayer, and by using my little influence so far as it will go, to soothe angry spirits on both sides, and to try to lead their thoughts to the cross and to eternity.”
Let us pray.
Restore our fortunes, Lord, like watercourses in the Negev.
Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy.
Though one goes along weeping, carrying the bag of seed,
he will surely come back with shouts of joy, carrying his sheaves.