Crabgrass is growing in the yard between the brick steps. It is among the roses and hydrangeas. The garden, so carefully planted this spring, is slowly going to seed. Wild grasses are overtaking the boxwood wall. A small world that was once tidy and prim is overspreading. Vines cover the carefully spread mulch, and stones walkways share space with wild lettuce.
I have watched this all happen in slow motion, throughout spring and now into late summer, and find I now lack the will to fight. I no longer want to beat that unkempt wildness back. I wish I could just look past it, view the chaos and disorganization as something that has no impact on my life. But I can’t seem to do it. My eyes are drawn to every imperfection, every failure—all the ways I botched my promises to the corner of this world that is my home.
Then there is the tub that won’t drain. The water-stained kitchen ceiling. The sofa constantly shedding pleather like dead skin. My children’s closets. Everywhere I look, something is falling apart, ceding to decay. There isn’t a single place where everything stays put, where a problem solved doesn’t instantly revert.
Surrounded by so many minor tragedies, all of which leave me tired and defeated, is it any wonder that the events of the past few weeks feel like a pile of bruising stones laid relentlessly on my chest? My feelings about COVID-19 come in waves: One moment, it’s fear for my children. In another, I can only feel anger toward those who continue to refuse life-saving vaccines and masks. In a third, it’s grief for those who have died needlessly (and often alone), struggling for breath and begging someone to save them.
I watch people running alongside planes at the Kabul airport, fighting for space on the landing gear—grimly holding on, knowing that even if they fall to their deaths, it’s a far better future than the one the Taliban has to offer. I witness mothers hurl their toddlers over razor wire into the arms of American soldiers, people sleeping in the cold on beds made of stone and cardboard. Sobbing, I pray as best I know how in these strange and trying times, “Lord, fix it. Help them. Have mercy. Please, Lord, have mercy.” And I wonder if my words even travel beyond the tacky popcorn ceiling I hate so much.
I sit, hands over my mouth, and listen to the stories of survival in Haiti. I suffer alongside a woman whose foot was crushed by falling debris and who is recovering from its amputation in a hospital bed in the open air. There is no hospital to house her, for it is also damaged and on the edge of collapse. And then the rains came, so even the small comfort of dry, clean sheets was ruined.
And it hits me, there is no comfort here, no space that is safe from death and destruction. It’s easy to forget that in my middle-class suburban neighborhood—a place where I can hold ruin at bay. For a moment, I quieted the groaning of creation and knew peace. But I am so frail, so feeble, and my best efforts bought only a scant few days of relief, a speck both invisible and unremarkable.
The world is screaming—loud and insistent and in need of deliverance—and there is nothing I can do. I can only bear witness, leave my eyes and ears open to the suffering of others, but to what end? How does my becoming a vessel, however well-intentioned, alter the tide of human suffering? It doesn’t. And yet I continue to hold space, to let myself drown time and again.
I drown each day but do not die. And every time I return to life, I find my lungs can hold just a bit more air. My heart can manage one more beat. My legs grow stronger and can deliver me to the surface one more time before I succumb to grief.
Maybe this is what Paul was trying to tell the Corinthians when he wrote, “Now we have this treasure in clay jars, so that this extraordinary power may be from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way but not crushed; we are perplexed but not in despair; we are persecuted but not abandoned; we are struck down but not destroyed. We always carry the death of Jesus in our body, so that the life of Jesus may also be displayed in our body. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’s sake, so that Jesus’s life may also be displayed in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:7-11).
Like David, I cry out, “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will I store up anxious concerns within me, agony in my mind every day?” (Ps. 13:1-2). And while, like him, I know “my heart will rejoice in [God’s] deliverance” and that one day “I will sing to the Lord,” (vv. 5-6), I refuse to turn this moment into a spiritual platitude, a tidy story with an uplifting ending. We have been fed a steady diet of those tales in the American church, and our feast of wishful thinking has left us saccharine and spiritually flaccid.
Dwelling in brokenness is horrible, but I can’t help but feel there’s a reason for my being there. Sadly, the church is no help. I have found no answers there, only dishonored promises and continued failures. To me, it is a place that’s turning inward, concerning itself only with members’ comfort—planning ladies’ socials, community BBQs, and children’s programming while the world outside continues to burn.
But Jesus has not failed. He is there with the people waiting at the Kabul airport, desperate to flee their homeland into an unknown future. He is there with the Haitians who are worshipping outside their damaged churches. He is with me in my distress and bone-crushing grief, his heart more sorrow-filled than my own over the state of the world, even though he can see beyond it to the newness that is to come. And because I believe in him, the one who neither leaves nor forsakes us, I trust his words are true and that a better day is coming—for all of us.