A long, long time ago, when I was just learning to walk with God, I prayed that God would give me eyes to see people as he saw them. Amy Grant's song "Father's Eyes" comes to mind, as it was during that era and I can remember singing along with her on my cassette player.
When I prayed that, I didn't realize that what I was asking would be so hard. I didn't realize that I would spend my life working with some of the most broken people in the world, and that as a result of my prayer, I would be facing them and their brokenness without the hardness and cynicism that would otherwise protect my heart.
I went away for the weekend to spend some time thinking, praying, and mourning. I'm still grieving my father's death of course, but I think the process of mourning has brought out all of these other things that I see on a daily basis that are so, so sad. And sometimes that sadness overwhelms me.
For example, I met with a couple of people in the county jail this morning. One of the men is someone who is in the throes of alcoholism and is in such deep denial about it that he doesn't see how it's utterly destroyed his family and has landed him in his legal troubles. He is blissfully unaware, while those who love him are sitting with their lives in shambles, trying to pick up the pieces. Another is a man who, for the first time in his life, suffered a psychotic break and is now living with a mental illness that he doesn't even want to acknowledge let alone treat with the medications that could help him.
So many times in the last few years I've wondered if what I'm doing is worth it. Is it worth my time and my energy and the heartbreak and the mourning? Is it worth it to see the darkness up close rather than being able to live pretending that it doesn't exist?
In the end, I always tell myself that it is. I think about Jesus's parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, and think that in Jesus's world, it is worth it. That every moment I spend listening to, praying for, caring for, and serving the poor and the prisoners is somehow bringing about his kingdom on earth.
Jesus also said that blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted. A book I read this weekend expounded on that blessing like this:
"Who then are the mourners? The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God's new day, who ache with all their being for that day's coming, and who break out into tears when confronted by its absence. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm of peace there is no one blind and who ache whenever they see someone unseeing. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm there is no one hungry and who ache whenever they see someone starving. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm there is no one who fails to see God and who ache whenever they see someone unbelieving. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm there is no one without dignity and who ache whenever they see someone treated with indignity. They are the ones who realize that in God's realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries.
"Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted." Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lament for a Son, pp 85-86.
Are you an aching visionary? Do you see the world as it could be and as it will be? Do you long for that day? Do you invite God to show you all the broken places of the world that don't reflect the perfection and goodness that he intended?
It's a powerful thing, I think, to mourn. If it doesn't kill you, it'll make you long for the day when there will be no more mourning, sickness, death, selfishness, or brokenness. And sometimes, that longing can give you the motivation to get out there and start making a difference now, working to bring about God's kingdom vision of loving God and loving others to earth.