I have been conflicted lately about how to respond when I hear about things happening around the world.
It seems to me like I have two options.
I can stop, curl up, and cry.
Or I can look away.
I used to actively try to ignore the news. Even now, when someone tells me about a tragic event, I get angry and usually say something like, “Why would you tell me that?!” They ruined my day. How could they?
But these stories are unavoidable. If I don’t see them on social media, someone will tell me about it, or a pastor will mention it, or a billboard will exclaim it. So I can either become a luddite and live in the middle of nowhere–or I will be bombarded by news stories that I can’t handle.
As much as I love the idea of being a luddite, I’m going to have to accept for now that my place is here, and that means I will often know more than I want to know.
So back to those options.
Cry. Or ignore?
But how often do I actually cry? I act like the news will ruin my day, but in reality the stories that should pierce my heart only mildly bruise me. I’ve built up so many shields that they can’t get through anymore. I may sit and stare at the ceiling and try to muster up tears, but I’m dry.
Then I question myself. Why am I so cold? Why don’t I care about this? Why don’t I care that another school was attacked by a depressed, lonely teenager with a gun? That the rainforest is still on fire? That our nation is divided?
But do I really have any power over my emotions? I can cry one day about how hard writing is, and later have no feelings when I hear about another tragedy across the world.
So instead of choosing crying or ignorance, I swing back and forth between the two and usually end up only feeling blank and distant. If I did let myself cry ever time, I would be crying every day, so maybe my emotions shut off so that won’t happen.
Am I alone here, or do some of you relate to this?
When I found out about the rainforest, the first thing I did was think about it long enough that I felt a hint of something. Then I researched it, found facts, and then scrambled to find something–anything–that I could do. But what can I do about something far away that only the rich and powerful can influence?
Pray? Yes. But then what?
I always go back to Franklin Covey’s idea of the circle of influence from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The theory is that proactive people focus on things that they can actually do something about. Your circle of influence might be, for instance, your own health, your family’s wellbeing, or your workplace.
But in a world where we are so connected to one another through the internet and through commerce, it is hard to determine what our circle of influence really is.
The rainforest is far away, but coffee, fastfood meat, palm oil, and other products that are made through deforestation are down the road being bought by consumers who don’t see the connection between the two–bought even perhaps by me or my family for the sake of convenience.
So what can I do?
I can refuse to buy those things and encourage others not to buy them. But the rainforest is still burning. Even though I mustered up some tears and did some research and came up with a practical solution for me and my family. It’s still burning.
And for some reason that I can’t explain, I feel guilty about it, as though the knowledge of something makes me responsible, and as if knowing and not crying makes me a bad person. But when I do feel truly, genuinely upset, and when the news does shake my day, I feel emotionally damaged, like I shouldn’t be responding this way, like I’m not mentally healthy.
This is a weekly, sometimes daily, struggle for me–this movement from guilt to anger to apathy to empathy to grief to forgetfulness and then to guilt again.
Maybe I need to accept that perhaps I don’t have to try and manipulate my feelings. Maybe emotions aren’t damning, and its okay to feel what I feel and not feel what I don’t feel.
Maybe I need to consider my circle of influence and stay present there, doing what I can the best that I can.
There are many things in the world that deserve grief, but we cannot hold all of that grief on our shoulders. We would be too weighed down by it. We can only handle our own burdens, trusting God with the burdens of those we can’t see or touch.
I want to be aware of what’s going on the world so that I can live in a way that promotes goodness among my circle of influence. I want to be aware so that I can grieve when the world grieves.
But I also want to live in trust and not fear. In hope and not despair.
I jumped past the notion of prayer earlier because, at those times, prayer feels like it doesn’t do anything. But that’s not true. If anything, we can lift up those heavy burdens onto Jesus and say, “This is yours. I can’t take this one. I can’t influence this. But you can. May your followers around the world stand up and help in these situations.”
I don’t think this struggle is over for me. I’m still working on it. But I do know that I should have no shame and no fear and no despair. I may feel these things, but I must not give in to them. Because God is not dead, and I will never love the world as much as God does.
A friend of mine once said that we cannot love the world. We can only love our neighbor.
It is often through our individual acts of love that God loves the world. We are millions of open hands holding onto others and working towards a better world. We can only open our hands where we are. Perhaps the hands we hold also hold onto others, and, through this endless connection, we also hold the world.
Note: If you are struggling with depression, it may be healthy to avoid the news for a time, and that’s okay
During some of my worst bouts of depression and anxiety, it was impossible for me to watch the news or hear anything about it without feeling paralyzed by fear and despair. If you are struggling right now, you may need to step away from the news for awhile, and that’s okay.
When we do hear bad news, I think it’s important to look for good news. Look for stories of faith and resilience and hope and healing.
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine anything past the present moment, but we must try and believe that there is an end to this. Everything will be redeemed. Right now, we are only experiencing the “birth pangs” (Matthew 24:8). Thankfully, we also have a God who works to redeem things today through love.