Slow Kingdom Coming

When it comes to Christian living, or any living really, we all want to do good for the world. So, when we are faithful to act, we give what we can to help the victims of horrific natural disasters around the world; we work hard to volunteer our time and skills to serve those less fortunate in our neighborhood; we engage in political and social battles that seem to be threatening our safety or the safety of others with rigor; we offer prayers for peace and justice day and night. But for those that have committed themselves to doing good work, it seems like there is often more need in the world than we are able to invest ourselves to caring about, let alone doing something about. As our energies dwindle and our hope begins to fade, the clouds of brokenness and need darken the doors to our hearts once more, but this time we feel there is nothing left to give. Where, oh God, do we go from here? 

It’s an amazing gift to be able and interested in caring about the problems in this world. Not everyone engages with that pull to serve and give of one’s self. But for those that have, even in the seemingly small ways, it’s not uncommon for us to wane in our commitment to stick with it, especially when the needs seem to so overwhelmingly outweigh our ability to meet those needs. We may even find ourselves paralyzed from moving in any direction; forward or backward. Some have aptly called this feeling "compassion fatigue,” and at some point or other, we all have likely experienced it, especially if you find yourself invested in the wellbeing of others. Whether you are a parent invested in your children, a social worker invested in your clients, or a gap year student invested in the settlements of refugee families or the growth and development of kindergarteners, you may find yourself asking: Do I really have the energy to keep going? Can I afford to care with my whole self every day equally? Can I afford not to? 

Though the student’s journey has been far more rich and layered than the sole experience of compassion fatigue, these feelings have been felt and expressed by nearly everyone on the program. And though it may seem odd to celebrate, the fact that students are not simply caring for their home stays, internships, peers, and neighbors, but that they are feeling worn out because of how much they care gives us great hope! What they have begun to deeply experience here, we believe, will continue to grown and cultivate their heart for others and a faith that helps them run the good race, endure hardships, and commit to serving with their whole selves in a sustainable way. It’s uncommon to see young adults so completely invest themselves in listening to the hardships of others, but when they do, and when they do so completely, it refreshes our spirits and brings us hope. 

Now, while feeling theses burdens is important and something students will be learning to engage with more and more through life, we thought it would only be right to equip them with words of wisdom from someone who’s had years of experience feeling the burden of other’s pain and wrestling with what appropriate Christian responses look like. Kent Annan, a celebrated author, development practitioner and co-director of Haiti Partners, joined us for a candid living room discussion about his experiences in Haiti and how he has come to maintain his faith and commitment to action in a world with so much need. Kent painted for us a very challenging dilemma that many Christian and non-Christian workers face, sharing how hope can quickly get covered by clouds of despair if we’re not careful. He shared with our group how important it is to adopt less of a "fix-it-now” mentality and grow into a slow and steady mindset that is shaped and sustained by five key practices: Attention, Confession, Respect, Partnering, and Truthing. Though each one of these practices offers us distinct perspectives on how to avoid paralysis, there is one in particular that deserves mention as it became a highlight at our recent mid-semester retreat: confession, and in particular, the vulnerability it takes to confess our struggles to one another. 

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Our group returned last week from our mid-semester retreat. This was a time filled with laughter, play, and good food, and we all enjoyed the relaxing and necessary time away. During one of our evening discussions, we were asked to share something from our past that has caused us significant pain, and talk about how those pains have affected us and how we’ve learned to cope with or work through them. Everyone had something to share, and everyone listened intently as each of us vulnerably disclosed pain points of our past and how we’ve struggled to find healing. It’s difficult to describe just how much we were able to see of one another, and I believe that everyone was inspired by the courage it took for people to share. We listened not just to the pain that people had in their lives, but also to how that pain has affected them; how it has caused them to see the world, to approach people, to handle their faith. For our group, it was a time confession. It was a time for us to share that which has hardened us to God’s love, and in a place of vulnerability, confess that we seldom seem to have the right answers. And yet, simply by participating and giving all our attention to listening well, there was a subtle healing presence. This presence in the midst of confession and vulnerability helped us see that each of us could carry on, press forward, and stay committed to doing good. In a significant way, this time gave us a chance to experience the power of confession and it’s role in keeping us away from compassion fatigue and paralysis. This was a sweet time for us to see the humanity we share and be encouraged to endure. 

As we begin approaching Thanksgiving break and with December 10th in sight, students are beginning to sense their time in Philly coming to an end, and the desire to soak up the East Coast and make the most of their last weeks here is palpable. This weekend students will all be heading down to DC to explore the Capitol and visit museums, and already talk of a NY City trip is on the horizon. And though we are less than five weeks away from departure, students seem to be keeping a good stride, working hard at internships and engaging well at home, with most everyone making good progress on their oral history projects. Overall, we couldn’t ask for a more hard working and thoughtful group of young world changers. 

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