Your Brother’s Keeper
Last week, a dear friend confided that she and her husband had suffered a miscarriage last year — their second since marrying in 2016 — and now the loss was taking a toll on their relationship. Separately, on Friday, another friend shared with me the recent struggles he faced with addiction, but also how he is now hopeful that an out-of-state job opportunity could be a good move for him. Then yesterday, one of my business partners, left fatigued by long hours at work and the recent loss of loved ones, shared that he was feeling depressed. And later, while on the golf course, a fourth friend complained about the exhaustion and stress brought on by his own job, and he told me that he had been contemplating “just walking in and quitting”.
Each of these conversations brought me back to something that my mother said in early January, 2020. As that year began, she and I were chatting about what seemed like a spate of uncommon events in the news, and she spoke these words in earnest: “We are entering a season of testing and discernment.”
A season of testing and discernment, indeed. There is probably no better description for the times we are living in.
Our times seem surreal. Between the pandemic, the storms, the fires, the toxic politics, the economic uncertainty, the last year’s summer of racial strife, the shattered dreams, the broken relationships, the loss of loved ones, and just the rigors of daily life, everything in our world seems pretty mucked up, and people are stressed beyond imagination. We might have joked about the dueling specters of 2020 and 2021, but the truth is, so many of us are living on a razor’s edge, already in absolute fear of the next, unexpected event.
Those events have kept coming, as this year also has come with its own challenges. And few of us have been left untouched by the events of all of these months. In fact, we are all trying to cope, to adapt, and to keep our heads turned skyward while wrestling against a tide often ripping violently around us.
What you are feeling today, we are all feeling it. In fact, regardless race or gender or class or political affiliation, I can assure you that nearly everyone you know, and nearly every person you encounter, is feeling marginalized, discounted, abused, forgotten, depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, afraid, or some combination thereof. You might not easily recognize it, but it’s true. We are all feeling it. You just have to look a little more intently, or probe a little deeper, to see it in the person next to you. Those feelings are there.
So what do we do about it?
Well, the simple and wrong answer would be to do nothing, at all. We cannot soldier on, pretending that we do not feel this way, or pretending that we do not see what is happening in the lives of the people around us. Actually, as people of faith, we know better than to watch, quietly, while our brothers suffer. In scripture, we can easily reflect upon Cain’s bold question to God: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer from God, though not explicit, was every bit clear: Yes. And we can easily reference later instructions in Bible that are more pronounced. Consider, for example, 1 John 3:23, which reads, “And this is [God’s] commandment: that we should believe on the name of His son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as He gave us commandment.”
To quietly sit back, do nothing, and watch our brothers carry on in distress is, as we know, wrong and increasingly problematic, as we begin to see even more clearly, each day. For everyday good people stand by and do nothing to effect change, we witness the occurrence of new events that shock the senses, that easily stokes tensions, and that make it harder for our society en masse to return to a positive and productive place. And as we stray farther, each of us is sure to find our emotional state worsening… No, we cannot do nothing. Rather, we must do more — a whole lot more — even if that is just displaying a smile, offering a few kind words, listening with purpose, or lending a hand.
I know that it can be tough to be there for others, particularly when you are going through your own challenges. But we do have to be there for one another — and especially so, in times like these, when it would be easier to focus inwardly. Remember that we are not in this alone, and neither are the people around us. We rest on the confidence that a higher power is still in control. And sometimes, the people in our lives — or even those on its periphery — need assurances that things will be okay for them, too. Sometimes, their faith needs the boost that only our genuine and caring engagement can bestow. After all, our words change lives; our actions change so much more.
To everyone reading this missive — please be strong. Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you, alongside the thoughts and prayers of so many others. Please take some time to stop, to breathe, and to calm the frenzy of your emotions. And please keep your head turned skyward, and trust that, no matter what you see before you, no matter what you are feeling in this moment, everything is still going to be okay.
May God bless and keep you.