Fight Apathy Or Don’t

UnknownAn earthquake hit China in 2008. Over 70,000 people died. 10,000 of them were children, and it’s even more devastating when you consider China’s one-child policy. These were only children. There is an HBO documentary about this called “China’s Unnatural Disaster.

The earthquake hit during the day when the kids were in school. Afterwards the parents went out to find their children. Many towns were completely flattened and all was ruined. But in many other towns, all of the buildings stood standing, except for the schools. The school buildings had collapsed on the kids. The kids were in there, screaming and crying, and calling their parents on their cell phones. They called out “Save us! Save us!’

The local governments were slow to respond, especially in the smaller towns. They weren’t equipped for this, and they wanted to keep people away from the disaster, not allow them to help. They wanted to take care of things themselves. They wanted to guard the information. They quickly also realized, like everyone else did, that something had been wrong with all of these school buildings. They hadn’t been built with quality. Pillars would crumble in their fingers. There was no way they could withstand an earthquake.

So the local governments ignored the cries of help from the parents. The kids died, many of whom could have been saved.

A week later, people started to march together to try to get someone to listen to them. They didn’t exactly know what their plan was but they were tired of being ignored. Government officials pleaded with them to stop and turn around. They were afraid of the bad press and the bad image this might portray. But the people said, Get out of the way. You’ve been ignoring us. We want answers.

Remember O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” – Lamentations 5:1

Does anyone care? That’s a question we might ask. We haven’t been in that level of disaster like the earthquake in China.

But we might ask it after a tornado rips through the city. Or during this Flint water crisis. There are disaster relief teams that normally find situations like this one in Haiti or Africa. Right now they’re helping in Flint, Michigan, in our own country. Does anyone care?

Many of us learn about things long after the fact. We didn’t know about them or about the cover ups to keep us from knowing about them. We learn about the disaster, the greed, the corruption, and the pain and death, and we’re startled. We’re thankful for journalists and story tellers who do care, who do pursue the truth, who do publish and tell the stories so they don’t stay hidden forever.

Remember us, O Lord. Remember what has befallen us.

None of us are in this same situation as Israel was at that time. But there are people all around us who are. They’re refugees. They really could cry out, Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners. We have become orphans, fatherless; our mothers are like widows. We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. Our pursuers are at our necks; we are weary; we are given no rest.” (5:2–5) They’re weary. They don’t have rest. They’ve fled their homes. They didn’t want to. It’s estimated that there are approximately 20 million refugees in the world today. Only 1% are given a new start through resettlement, a process that takes years. Most have to just try to make it.

They wonder if they’ll ever be helped or permitted or listened to or cared about. Will they? Will we welcome them?

So perhaps we’re not refugees.

We can feel like we are. We wonder if anyone ever will listen or care? Like Marcus, we’re trying to make it and can’t see that anyone might try to help, even if they don’t have the answers.

Does anyone care that I lost my son? I wonder if I’m not supposed to talk about him, or if it’s okay. Or if I will always be sad.

Does anyone care that I hate myself? So I cut in order to feel the pain somewhere else besides my heart.

Does anyone care that I don’t think I should exist? I carry that shame and it’s such a load that I try to turn off my feelings.

Does anyone care that I’m chronically ill? I put on a happy face, but really every day is a huge struggle. Since no one knows, I can’t be myself, but since I don’t like myself I don’t want to be that anyway.

Does anyone care about what happened to me in junior high? No one likes to hear stories like that, so I store that one away in the vault and pretend it doesn’t matter. But it does. But I don’t care.

Does anyone care that my wife doesn’t respect me? Or my husband doesn’t love me? Or my kids don’t obey me? Or my job doesn’t fulfill me?

Some of us are on pins and needles all the time. We’re tightly wound. Everything sets us off. That may be at least partly our own temperment, but it’s exacerbated by social media and the internet. We’ve been trained and conditioned that all of our opinions matter all the time, and that we need to weigh in on everything every second. We’re commenting about our food and our service and the ambiance and the cleanliness and the presentation. We’re upset that others contradict our opinions. It’s like they don’t get it. So we fight back, but louder this time.

We’re worried that someone might think what she said on the internet was correct. So we attack. We care that the truth isn’t being properly represented. We’re vigilant about our politics or our parenting or our predictions. All the time, we care about all the things.

So we learn to do that in life. We care, so we pick at things. We nitpick. We nag. Does anyone care? You bet! They care about everything. Nothing can be left hidden or unknown. It’s all out there for everyone to see.

But that can wear us out. So we often take the other tactic. We retreat. We stop caring. We clam up and go away. We write it all off. We turn our backs on anything that might be complicated or get personal. We go into lock down. We’ve learned that nothing’s going to change anyway, so we’d be better off to just go with the flow.

Not too long ago, I was really angry with Julie. I’m sure it was my fault, and I don’t remember what our fight was about, but I do remember that my point was entirely justified and correct!

Here was my strategy. Instead of talking about it with her which might have been a really good idea, I decided that I wasn’t going to talk to her at all. I was going to stop talking to her altogether. But not entirely. Just mostly. I would acknowledge her and say hi but that was it. I didn’t want her to talk to me about not talking to her. I was thinking that the best plan would be to stop caring about her altogether and then I’d be okay. I’d be safe. I wouldn’t be hurt any more.

This worked really well.

No. No, it didn’t. I kept this up for a few days. Julie didn’t like it, but she’s secure enough in Christ to not be undone by this childish behavior, this silent treatment temper tantrum. She played along. She’d ask, “When are you going to start talking to me again?” And I’d say, “What? Huh? I’m not sure what you’re talking about! I’m just being normal!” She’d roll her eyes and then wait me out.

Erg.

We think that if we think we don’t care or act like we don’t care, that we actually don’t care. We do care.

I have a friend who was incredibly wounded by a relationship that ended poorly. It made sense that he was trying to sort that out and didn’t have the capacity to get back on his feet immediately.

However, instead of lamenting and grieving, he went into a life lockdown, a life check out. He shut off his heart. He’d say over and over again the didn’t care. It felt like depression and a whole host of other things, but he insisted this was his new way of life.

It’s tough to keep up. Things get in there. We do get angry about things, despite our best intentions. We still hate things, even when we say we don’t care. We still get excited about things, even when we say nothing excites us. We’re afraid to hope, and yet we do.

The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned into mourning.” (5:15)

Ann Weems has a book, Psalms of Lament. She wrote these in the months and years after her 21-year-old son Todd was killed less than an hour after his birthday. She says she still weeps all these years later.

A mentor suggested to her that she might write out some lament psalms. She did, and gave them to him, and then tried to quickly forget about the whole process. Later he called her and asked if he could give them to some people attending a seminar he was leading. She asked why, and he told her, “Because throughout history the faithful have marched to the throne of God and cried out in their pain. In your cries, you are voicing the sobs of these people.”[1]

Weems continues, “Shortly thereafter I began receiving letters and phone calls from people who had been in Walter’s seminars. Their stories, like mine, were painful, too painful for any of us to try fitting our souls into ten correct steps of grieving. They knew what I knew: There is no salvation in self-help books; the help we need is far beyond self. Our only hope is to march ourselves to the throne of God an in loud lament cry out the pain that lives in our souls”[2]

Listen to how some of them begin:

I don’t know where to look for you, O God! I’ve called and I’ve called. I’ve looked and I’ve looked. I go back to my room and sit in the dark waiting for you. Could you give me a sign that you’ve heard. Could you numb my emotions so I wouldn’t hurt so much? (Lament Psalm 22)

I am on my knees, O God, asking you for your help, but you do not give it. I constantly seek you, but I do not find you. I stand at the door and knock but it is not opened to me. (Lament Psalm 26)

O God, why have you abandoned me? I sit and wait for you and you do not come. I watch everyone who passes, but it is not you. I sit by myself on the side of life, and cry to you, but you do not come. I stand and look from the window, but you are nowhere in sight. I need you, O God, but you have left me all alone. I try to talk myself into believing that you’re on the way, perhaps tomorrow, or the next day… but you do not appear. How can I walk in this pain all alone? (Lament Psalm 15)

How large a cup of tears must I drink, O God? How much is enough? Must my cup grow and overflow even as I drink from it until it becomes as deep as a well and I can’t swallow anymore? (Lament Psalm 3)

We need to wonder about our care quotient, our apathy level. We need to consider how might be too into everything, too caring without any real healthy boundaries or wisdom. And we might need to recalibrate if we’ve pulled back too far, as if we can pretend that we don’t care what’s going on with the world, with others and even with ourselves. I don’t think it’s very easy to truly be agnostic, though we might try to be. We actually do care. My friend needed perhaps to cry out with his emotions, not to hide them away.

Dr. Brene Brown calls this type of apathy disengagement. She says “We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability, shame and feeling lost and without purpose.”[3]

Are you disengaged? Are you apathetic?

What about God? Is he? Does God care? Will he hear us? Will he act? How large a cup of tears must we drink?

[1] Weems, Psalms of Lament, p. xx

[2] ibid

[3] Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, p. 176

Doug in library