This is Chapter 7 of Discovering Joy, my devotion-style diary during the coronavirus self-isolation, which I am posting chapter-by-chapter on Wattpad. Enjoy!
"I am banning myself from Facebook for the rest of the day," I announced to my husband Paul. "I've just seen way too much negativity today."
Being pregnant has made my emotions so much more "extra," so things that normally I'd be able to shake my head at and then ignore, I now find infuriating or irrationally devastating. I've found myself typing out paragraphs of responses to various posts on Facebook, only to pause, re-read what I have written, and recognize that my brilliant riposte is not going to solve anything ultimately. Highlight. Delete. Of course, I think of myself as one of the few sane ones in a sea of irrational adults. But every other adult in this mess thinks the exact same thing, so who am I to claim that I'm different?
I've learned that, most of the time, people turn to social to find affirmation for their opinions. I have rarely seen anyone substantially change their mind because of some duel in Facebook comments. That's why, if I'm going to support a cause or educate people on a controversial topic, I tend to do it offline, in person, and with active use of my resources.
But it's a constant battle to remind myself of this, especially with third trimester hormones inciting far stronger emotional reactions than I'm used to processing.
You would think a worldwide catastrophe would bring people together--and in some ways it is--but it's also driving people apart. Newton's Third Law of Motion has never seemed more apropos: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. As the actions have become more heated, partisan, and accusatory, the reactions have matched them in fury.
So that is why I abandoned my news-mining and went outside for a long walk outside in a gorgeously sunlit, verdant spring afternoon.
It's my custom to pray aloud while I walk. This is a habit that I have developed over time as I've learned more about prayer (I have so much to share about that!) and that has always had a cleansing effect on the anxious tangle of thoughts in my mind. I wobbled my way across grass and asphalt, grateful for the belly band that supported my thirty-two week pregnancy, and just unloaded on God.
This is something I've learned about prayer: You start where you're at. You don't put yourself in an artificially prayerful mood and at last come to God with your life together. The whole point of praying is acknowledging that you don't have it together, that your dependency on your Father is absolute. The same need that drove you to respond to God's offered salvation is the exact same need that drives you to return to Him in prayer:
Come, ye weary, heavy-laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.
So you come to God messy, broken, upset, anxious, and tired, with all the rawness of your thoughts plainly visible. You come to prayer in utter emotional nakedness.
I don't know how long I spent telling God about the insanity, irrationality, nastiness, and negativity that so infuriated me. Somewhere in there, as my emotion spent itself, I prayed that God would help me to change the lens of my perspective. I know that 'the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God,'" I prayed, quoting James 1:20. "Help me to look at this situation from the proper viewpoint."
As I continued praying, another emotion began to overtake my anger: heart-brokenness. It struck me forcefully that so much of the negativity is fueled by fear.
Fear that the virus will harm them and their families, especially the vulnerable members.
Fear that the economic shutdown will destroy their ability to care for their families, even once the virus is over.
Fear that someone else's exercise of personal freedom will result in the death of innocent people.
Fear that government control exercised during the pandemic will set a dangerous and oppressive precedent going into the future.
So many, many fears lay at the root of this conflict amidst the coronavirus.
Fear of man--both of the evil of mankind and the vulnerability of mankind--becomes slavery.
In contrast, the fear of God always brings life, freedom, and wisdom. It's the way you fear the power and radiance of lightning or an ocean storm or the vastness of space--yet find it inspiring and beautiful. If the one who created and controls the lightning, the ocean storm, and the wonders of the universe is also the one who loves you personally as a father, then the fear of Him is accompanied by the assurance of His intimate love and protection toward His children.
As I walked, I saw that my own fear drove my anger toward others. I had many of the same fears that lay at the root of the nationwide (and worldwide) conflicts. I released my fear to my Father and, with it, the anger that had seemed so reasonable just a few minutes ago.
But what about the things worth being angry about? There were some things driven simply by fear, but there were also situations plainly motivated by evil intentions.
To this, God answered with more truth.
Yes, I had a right to be angry about those things, because to be passive about them was to ignore justice and truth. But if I was going to fight evil, I had to fight all of it. Which meant starting with myself.
Suddenly, tears smeared my vision and I saw the heart of God.
When I watch a video that highlights some deliberate, man-fueled evil in the world that contributes to horrific suffering, I glimpse for a moment the agony of God. I am moved by the need for justice and restoration. Yet God is omniscient and omnipresent, unbound by time or location. So while I see only the injustice in front of me, He is aware of all of them--all over the world, all that are happening at this very moment, and all that have happened or will happen in all the eras of the world's existence.
The thought of seeing so much evil crushed me. How did He stand it? If I could scarcely handle one thing at a time, how could He--in the purity and love of His character--even bear to look at the carnage we have created in this world? How could He stand to look at me, at all the ways in which I intentionally or unintentionally participate in the same root of sin that has diseased our world?
Some people really struggle with the concept of a good, loving, and all-powerful God not fixing all the evil in the world. What I struggle with is the reality that we all contribute to that evil, even the best of us. Our little selfishnesses, white lies, and private dark thoughts add up. We wound each other every day with thoughtless words and actions, with ripple effects so far reaching that we have an entire system overburdened with people on antidepressants and in therapy because someone thought that their behavior toward another person "wasn't a big deal." Every single one of us believes that other people are part of the real problem, and we are part of the solution. Yet even when we try to be the humanitarian saviors we want to believe ourselves to be, we still contribute, drop by drop, to the ocean of evil around us.
Even when we try our best, we're aware of the many ways in which we fail in keeping our own commitments, in practicing our own self-appointed version of goodness, in meeting our own approval.
When I think of God's ultimate and unshadowed goodness, and the evil He must see in the world--even from people like myself who profess to care about goodness and truth--I can only wonder that He doesn't just wipe us all out and start from scratch.
How can He see so much evil and still offer forgiveness and second chances?
By the time I finished my walk, the anger was gone. The fear was gone. Even the heart-brokenness of my own sin and its contribution to the larger problem of sin in the world was gone.
All that was left was an intense gratitude that God did not leave the world to itself, to its own evil and suffering and hardship. He absorbed all of that into Himself in a once-for-all-time agonizing death, so that "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16b). He didn't have to bear our griefs and carry our suffering (Isaiah 53:4). He chose to. Christ did something about the evil and the suffering.
So now as I sit and ponder these things, I can go back to the dumpster fire of social media and see people as souls again, the way He does. I can fully hate the evil of the world while drawing from the compassion of God toward evil-doers, who delays His judgment to offer them time to repent (2 Peter 3:9). I can acknowledge the anger and fear of those around me, without letting it define or drive my own responses. I can something about evil, with proper motives and a Christ-like perspective.
Maybe I should walk and pray more often.
None of my life has gone the way it was "supposed to go," but I don't love my life any less because of the hardships and new directions. I see so much unexpected good in it, and I want others to see the good in theirs.