The other day after listening to my friend recount a recent wounding at the hands of another, I felt the familiar surge of indignation rise in my gut. I quoted back to her the 6th verse of Psalm 58, O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!
Angry on behalf of my friend, I recited this Psalm with a sharpness on the tip of my tongue. I meant it. My own sincerity caught me off guard.
Break the teeth in their mouths?—it’s a horrific image.
Her affliction hit me in an already-tender place. I’ve been nursing my own community-inflicted wounds since last February, and because grief is an untamable, unpredictable beast of its own, the journey towards my healing has been winding and long—much longer than I want—and far longer than seems reasonable. But try as I have to force my way through, I remain unable to hurry my own healing. I have had little choice but to ride the waves of it, stumbling backwards and forwards in the process.
At a particular low point recently, I decided that I needed to get quiet. The external noise had reached deafening decibels. With four children in the house, I can only quiet my physical life so much, but my online life, that space of constant chatter and distraction?—that I could hush in an instant.
It’s easy to disappear from social media. Just stop showing up, and the hole where you once held space, closes up nearly instantly.
Weeks ago, on a quiet camping trip with my family I posted a photo of my girls walking to the pool and decided as soon as I clicked the “send” button, that I was done. No more sharing my moments. No more listening to other people’s conversations, or seeking to start my own.
I told God, 40 days, I’ll stay offline for 40 days. It wasn’t even hard. In the initial days after I stepped away I felt relief. I felt like my lungs were finally able to fully expand. I didn’t realize I’d been holding my breath.
More than that, I’d been holding my tongue.
As I sunk further into the quieter space of my actual life, noticing my absence, a few friends began to message me. The question they all got around to asking me was, something along the lines of “why did you decide to get offline?”
Because I wear my heart on my sleeve, and because when I am most raw I am unable to be anything but brutally honest, my list of reasoning for getting offline always included a reference to a mounting, internal anger. The first time I said it, I felt an immediate sense of regret. Like I had overshared. Like I was ashamed. But then in another conversation, with another friend, that word, anger, slipped out again.
40 days is a decent amount of time for introspective investigation. As God excised my heart-wounds, pulling out the refuse I’ve been stashing away like an emotional hoarder, I had little choice but to face my junk. What I’d accidentally revealed about my anger was something much more—it was outrage. I wasn’t just angry. Internally, an inferno blazed.
During the Clinton administration, a bumper sticker became popular among conservative-leaning voters, that read, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” (Honk if you remember this.) In 2014, Slate.com published an article entitled, “The Year Of Outrage.” In 2016 we all watched one of the ugliest political seasons unfold that many in my generation have ever seen. And while the political scene melts down, fires burn in many of our own hometowns. Racial violence, immigration debates, the church fighting against itself trying to get a foothold in the increasingly slippery terrain of non-stop offense, admission and confession of corporate sin, and the ongoing wrestling over interpretation of challenging scriptural passages all continue to boil.
This small list of atrocities barely scratches the surface.
The news brims with stories of every kind of horror imaginable, and otherwise. Read through any article with the hashtag #metoo, and you’ll feel rage rise sour in your throat like bile. I read a story a few days ago about a woman who put her babies in the oven and turned it on. Stories like this not only break my heart with a deep grief, but also stir up in me a rage at a world hell-bent on destruction, drunk with sin and ripe with the unbearable hangover of what often seems like an incurable disease. How can we even begin to process this kind of horror?
In paying attention, in an effort to stay “connected,” to not stick my head in the sand, my outrage blossomed into a hideous fungus around my heart. A blight on my spirit leaving me stunned, increasingly desensitized and at a loss.
–Where does my help come from (Ps. 121)?
We can only carry so much. When I shut down my social media for 40 days, it was because I had reached the point of collapse. I could no longer bear up under the steady stream of horror, hurt and offense happening to others. My heart was broken by my own various small sufferings.
It’s likely, that if we’re paying attention, we’re all walking around feeling various stages of outrage.
In his book, Exclusion & Embrace, theologian, Miroslov Volf asks the question: Where is my rage safe? My rage, our collective rage, is not safe online. We aren’t equipped to absorb each others rage. We aren’t made to.
It took me 36 of my 40 days to begin to feel relief. 36 days of praying and shaking my fists at God, 36 days of pouring out my rage to Him before I began to feel the tightness in my chest ease.
–My help comes from the LORD, Maker of heaven, Creator of the earth (Ps. 121).
Volf’s work reminds us that our rage, our grief, our varied and numerous burdens, all find their relief in God. He reminds us that God can hold what we cannot. The only real relief from the burden’s of this world comes through surrendering it all to Christ. Casting our cares on the one whose shoulders bear up the whole world and all her groaning is the only way we can begin to stand up, the only way we can move with hope and freedom, even in the face of continued oppression and assault.
When the cacophony of universal distress unsettles us, remind us that we are but small and finite creatures, never designed to carry the vast abstractions of great burdens, for our arms are too short and our strength is too small. Justice and mercy, healing and redemption are your great labors.