It is tempting. It is common for us. Bit I beg you, please do not do it. Do not let yourself become numb to the tragedies in our nation.
Brian Resnick writes, “On Wednesday [Feb. 14], we learned that 17 students [actually 14 students, plus the school’s athletic director, a football coach, and a teacher] were killed by a young gunman at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We were told…that there have been 1,607 mass shootings since the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. We were reminded it was only five months ago that a gunman killed 58 in Las Vegas, and that a year and a half has passed since 49 died in a nightclub shooting in Orlando. You might think that with every new death, we’d all feel greater and greater empathy, greater and greater sadness. But no. It’s human to feel numb.
“There’s a profound and infuriating psychological concept that can help explain increasing numbness in the face of long, slow-burning tragedy like mass gun violence in America. It’s this: As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to do something, reliably decreases. This tendency is called psychic numbing. It describes how tragedies turn into abstractions in our minds, and how abstractions are easily attenuated and even ignored.”
It’s tempting to let our souls go numb. Indeed, it’s our human tendency to become numb. But don’t do it.
Ted Wueste explains, “We all experience pain in this life. No one emerges unscathed. We might wish and hope and pray not to experience pain, loss, and suffering, but this is our common lot. Also, common to humanity is the temptation to numb our pain…. Numbing our pain might sound like a great option, a preferable option. However, it comes with significant risk. First and foremost, we can’t shut down just a part of our heart. When we numb the pain, we also numb our ability to feel other things like joy and peace and delight…. In addition, when we are numb, we can end up engaging in behaviors that are risky and/or sinful because we just want to feel alive. We want to feel something.”
So, please, do not become numb.
Feel the pain and the sorrow. Weep. Groan. Mourn. Scream. Pray. Talk about it. Take some kind of appropriate action. Just don’t become numb.
Personally, I agree with the recommendation Bob Goodlatte (Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) made on Feb. 15, to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study gun violence as a public health issue.
Writing in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 21, 2015, Catherine A. Humikowski (medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Chicago) argued, “Denying gun violence as a disease of public health proportions…denies the true impact of the problem and the public responsibility to address it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must resume dedicated research to understand its cause and to effect prevention and cure.
“Vastly more likely to strike any American than Ebola, gun violence lacks dedicated public research investment due to political roadblocks that have led to a decades-long cycle of non-action. Powerful and sustainable research programs are absent because the funding pool is too shallow and the political risk too great. Even though more of our youngest children die from homicide than from cancer, last year the National Institutes of Health spent twice as much money to fund pediatric cancer research than to study youth violence.”
Disagree with my suggestion if you want. Get mad at my ideas if you want. Just don’t become numb. Our nation and our world need people whose hearts are alive rather than numb—even though our hearts may be aching deeply—for it is only a feeling heart that can love, and that’s what our nation and our world need most deeply.
Some treasures in life last; some treasures do not. In Matthew 6:19-20, Jesus encourages us to store up for ourselves those treasures that last rather than those that do not.
According to an Associated Press report from a few years ago, an 82-year-old man in Beijing, China discovered the wisdom of Jesus’ words the hard way. Mistrustful of banks, he had dug a hole in the ground and deposited his life savings in it. Five years later, amidst a devastating financial loss, he dug up the money only to find, to his dismay, that most of the money was moldy beyond recognition. He was able to salvage only a third of his savings.
In contrast, a story is told of a tax auditor who came to the home of a poor man to assess what the man would have to pay in taxes.
“What property do you possess?” asked the auditor.
“I am quite wealthy,” the man replied.
“List your possessions, please,” the auditor instructed.
The man answered, “I have everlasting life (John 3:16). I also have a mansion in heaven waiting for me (John 14:2). I have a peace that surpasses understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have songs in the night (Psalm 42:8). I have a crown of life (James 1:12). I have the certainty that I am forgiven (1 John 1:9). I have a Savior who supplies all my needs (Philippians 4:19), who causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28), who has plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). I have the company of One who will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8). Indeed, He will walk with me even through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4).”
The auditor closed his book and said, “Truly you are a very rich man, but such property is not subject to taxation.”
Jesus goes on to warn us, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
It seems to me that a part of what Jesus is getting at here is that some treasures fill our souls in good ways, but other treasures deplete our souls.
In the book Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom shares lessons he learned from Morrie Schwartz as Morrie was dying from ALS. One day Morrie shared with Mitch, “We’ve got a form of brainwashing going on in our country…. Do you know how they brainwash people? They repeat something over and over. And that’s what we do in this country. Owning things is good. More money is good. More property is good. More commercialism is good. More is good. More is good. We repeat it—and have it repeated to us—over and over until nobody bothers to even think otherwise. The average person is so fogged up by all this, he has no perspective on what’s really important anymore.
“Wherever I went in my life, I met people wanting to gobble up something new. Gobble up a new car. Gobble up a new piece of property. Gobble up the latest toy. And then they wanted to tell you about it. ‘Guess what I got? Guess what I got?’
“You know how I always interpreted that? These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes. They were embracing material things and expecting a sort of hug back. But it never works. You can’t substitute material things for love or for gentleness or for tenderness or for a sense of comradeship.” (pp. 124-125)
Pope Francis adds, “Corruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power.”
Some treasures deplete our souls. Other treasures fill them.
Henry Drummond suggests, “You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments when you have truly lived are the moments when you have done things in the spirit of love.”
After almost 50 years as a Christian I am discovering more and more fully that prayer is about relationship more than it is about anything else.
I used to think that prayer had to do with finding a way to talk God into giving me what I need or what someone I care about needs, or persuading God to do what I think needs to be done. I would bring to God my list of things He should do. I would plead with Him. I was careful to use the words and phrases that were supposed to earn His favor. And, more often than I wish, I was disappointed with prayer.
But I am beginning to recognize that I was improperly focused on the things I wanted to get from God instead of focusing on getting God Himself.
I know that the former dynamic is not what I want in my marriage. If I got a bunch of “things” from my wife but didn’t actually get my wife, I would be greatly disappointed. If I got from her a clean house, and nicely prepared meals, and washed clothes but no heart-to-heart relationship, I might as well hire a maid. What I want more than anything else in my marriage is a soul-mate, a life-partner, a meaningful, intimate, loving relationship.
Perhaps in my younger (less mature) years as a Christian, I wanted God to do for me the things I wanted done, but I am finding now that what I want more than anything else is a Soul-Partner, a “Shepherd” who will walk beside me through the toughest times of my life—even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Someone whom I know will hold my tears in His heart (or in His bottle as Psalm 56:8 says), Someone who knows me thoroughly and loves me fully anyway, Someone I can pour out my heart to and who pours out His heart to me.
Jeffrey D. Imbach puts it this way: “Prayer is essentially the expression of our heart longing for love. It is not so much the listing of our requests but the breathing of our own deepest request, to be united with God as fully as possible.”
C.S. Lewis suggests, “The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real me who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.” …Only God Himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us….. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking ‘But I never knew before; I never dreamed….’”
Larry Crabb adds, “Missionary and evangelist E. Stanley Jones wrote, ‘The first thing in prayers is to get God. If you get Him, everything else follows. Allow God to get at you, to invade you, to take possession of you. He then pours His very prayers through you. They are His prayers—God-inspired, and hence, God-answered.
“‘Prayer’s like the fastening of the cup to the wounded side of a pine tree to allow the resin to pour into it. You are now nestling up into the side of God—the wounded side, if you will—and you allow His grace to fill you up. You are taking in the very life of God.’”
This is what I want more than anything else now in prayer. More than getting things from God. I want to get more of God. I am discovering the beauty and the miracle of what Mother Teresa said, “Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of Himself.”