Lately I've found myself in a dilemma.
When I sit down to watch the news on TV or read the headlines on a webpage or newspaper, I feel like I've been slapped across the face with crime, trauma, poverty, crisis, gossip and information. Even good news can feel overwhelming as I try to absorb and understand what's happening in my city and around the world. I could not watch the news but I don't like the idea of avoidance either.
Part of my struggle is that I don't want to read about a flood that has destroyed a village and then flip to a funny story about a cat all in the same minute. There is something about that that just feels wrong. And yet, what can I do about the flood? Anything? Am I just being informed? Is there something beneficial in information?
So I've been trying something new.
It comes from a desire to simplify. Having lived with chronic pain for most of my adult life, I've needed to keep stress low and my focus directed on a few things rather than many. I've learned that being overwhelmed is not helpful to anyone and is usually infused with unnecessary guilt and 'shoulds'. I've also learned that God is fully able to nudge me toward the things that He wants me to pay attention to, not everything, but usually one thing. If I can be attentive to that, then I can respond accordingly.
Here's what I've been trying: As I go about my week, watch the news, listen to stories about my city and my world, I ask the Lord to help me be aware of which issue/story to focus on.
Then, during those times while I'm waiting for my coffee to brew or the cookies to bake, I sit at the computer and learn a little more. I find out an address where I can write an organization and encourage the staff. Then, just before bed, or when I'm sitting down for a break in the day, I write a quick note of encouragement. I pray for the volunteers.
Then, I stay with this issue for the rest of the week. I pray for the people involved and pay attention to more news regarding this issue, and try to keep my focus from wandering to everything else.
My experiment has been humbling. I wish I could do so much more. My contribution feels so lame. However, excusing myself from doing anything is actually lame and feeling guilty and overwhelmed is even worse!
So this is my discipline: focus on less at one time, and allow God to work in my heart, bringing about compassion, creativity, prayer and action as God directs and trusting Him to work powerfully through my small offering of action.
Living with an illness does not excuse us from caring about the rest of the world's pain, but it challenges us to respond with wisdom, so that we continue to care for our own needs as well and do not grow weary or carry burdens unnecessarily.
(I encourage you, if this is a struggle, to read through stories of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Observe how many times Jesus walked away, went off on his own to pray, climbed into a boat with a few disciples and left the crowds behind. He didn’t heal everyone. He didn’t feed everyone and he certainly didn’t fix everything. He remained obedient to what God the Father asked him to do and his focus was on eternal things, one step at a time. It’s interesting to consider why we think we should be more ‘efficient’ than Jesus.)