“Peace of heart that is won by refusing to bear the common yoke of human sympathy is a peace unworthy of a Christian. To seek tranquility by stopping our ears to the cries of human pain is to make ourselves not Christian but a kind of degenerate stoic having no relation either to stoicism or Christianity.”
- A.W. Tozer
I read the words and they stung-- in that way that happens when you are rightly accused, when someone has looked into your heart and clearly named your sin. Because haven't I stopped my ears? Discontinuing newspaper subscriptions, turning off the evening news, even blocking public radio for fear of wounding my own spirit, attaining "peace of heart." And here I am, supposedly living that peace, and yet my spirit is decidedly not at peace. I have refused to bear the common yoke of human sympathy, and yes, that causes pain.
I think of my sister and brother-in-law (who shared these very words with me), in Haiti right now. I fought her going, their going. Lovingly, gently, selfishly holding her here, with my family, in safety. She has a the biggest heart of anyone I know, and I feared, I knew, that her heart would be broken. That she would look around at the broken buildings, the broken bodies, the broken families, and that she herself would become broken. Wounded. Lost.
My heart sinks and I realize that such suffering is inevitable. Not only my dear sister, but my beloved children, my husband, my parents and friends will experience pain and heartbreak when they open their eyes and realize the extent of human pain that exists in this world, god forbid they experience it themselves. I choke back tears to think of the magnitude of this pain: orphans wandering the desert in Zambia, their parents lost to AIDS; entire families living in a dump yard in Guatemala, making their living from decay and trash; a newborn baby left abandoned in a factory in China because of a birth deformity. How can there be peace of heart amid such cruelty? Where is God? How can I bear to subject my beloved ones to this?
And then I remember the story.
God with us, in our midst. The joy of his short life: the miracles, the peace, the compassion. The pain and sorrow of his death: the injustice, the violence. And then. And then out of a place of darkness and sorrow something wonderful happens. Pain is transformed. Not erased: when Jesus appears to his disciples, he proves his very identity through the scars he carries. He is still wounded. But transformed. It is from a place of woundedness and suffering that God transformed the world. And it is from such a place of woundedness and suffering that my own heart can be transformed, too.
I am still searching for peace of heart. More than ever. But this time I hope that I find it with my eyes and ears open. So that the next time I do hear a cry of pain I may hear that it belongs to none other than God in our midst.
(And if you are reading this, won't you say a prayer for Irene and Robbie? God is doing wonderful things with their trip to Haiti, and I hope to share more when they return.)