On a recent Sunday afternoon I attempted to take a good, old-fashioned nap with my two-month-old daughter Alice. Unfortunately, two of my other supposed-to-be-napping children were not sleeping, and making noise instead, and after being awakened for the millioneth time I turned on the TV for some white noise to drown out the sweet but ill-timed giggling. We don’t have cable or satellite or anything, just an antennae, and a Colorado news program was on.
Now I never, ever watch TV, and that includes the news. I check headlines online each day or so just in case there’s a zombie apocalypse that I should know about, but that’s it. And anytime I do happen to catch a glimpse of television news I’m reminded precisely why I don’t watch.
People, the news is sad! Shootings, stabbings, avalanches, and bombings were all covered during the ten minutes or so of coverage I saw on Sunday. When the newscaster was done discussing them, he just started over and talked some more about them. No wonder people are so depressed and afraid and stressed out of their minds. They’re watching the news!
It is for some reason natural to be drawn in and to internalize what we hear and see and read, as if it were all happening to us or near us–when the truth is that few of us are even remotely affected by the vast majority of headlines. Occasionally I even have to consciously disengage from a particular story, if it is particularly disturbing or frightening, reminding myself that my own corner of the world is primarily happy.
On the other hand though, I don’t want to stick my head in the sand and pretend the world is not evil or that people are not suffering. Because it is, and they are. The first time I really had to come to grips with this sort of disparity was after our first trip to Africa, to adopt our sons. It was eye-opening, I was incredibly naïve, and we did see some legitimately distressing things. Returning home to our comfortable house and life of relative ease (I say “relative” because we went from one to three children, all aged two and under, and it was hard!) felt wrong somehow–as I look back now I realize that I was ultimately struggling with the ideas of suffering, affluence, poverty, and justice. I’d never lacked for anything in my life, and now suddenly I felt a little guilty about it because clearly that was not the case for much of the rest of the world. How might I integrate what I’d seen and how I lived with the faith I professed? A faith that decidedly ought to care about the poor?
My life was filled with happy and mundane things and I didn’t know how to think about that. So I read a lot of books, hoping to find a framework for suffering with which to understand why some are rich and some are poor, and what we rich folks in the West are supposed to be doing (especially when we have a passel of kids preventing us from taking off to run an orphanage in a developing country). For the first time I found myself drawn to the likes of progressive Evangelicals like Brian McLaren, Rob Bell, and Jim Wallis. They talked a lot about the poor and about social justice. I thought they made some good points. But they also lacked answers, I had misgivings, and could (mercifully) never fully settle there. Thankfully I also discovered Thomas Howard around that time, and I’d never stopped reading CS Lewis, and finally I stumbled upon the fresh air that is Blessed John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem. (So that is what womanhood and vocation and life are about.) I read Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s Come Be My Light. Powerful stuff. Stuff that was true. Stuff that contributed to our journey into the Catholic Church a year and a half ago.
See Catholics, it turns out, are not the least bit uncomfortable with the concept of suffering. Who knew? While Protestants attempt to work it out from varying perspectives (everyone from John Piper to Pat Robertson to Shane Claiborne has an opinion on the meaning and origin of suffering), Catholics continue believing the stuff they’ve always believed, essentially what the apostles and Church have always taught. Suffering is mysterious. Suffering is the result of sin. Suffering is an opportunity for growth and change. Suffering can be offered up in union with Christ’s suffering. Suffering is a chance to be united with Christ, period. Suffering is not authored by God, though He allows it. Suffering can be a special cross that can bring someone closer to Jesus.
And Catholics have been ministering to the suffering since the Church’s inception. They have been caring for the poor and the marginalized in practical and spiritual ways. At the same time, the Church teaches that if you marry and have children, that is the primary thing you will be doing for God. That’s your vocation. And this means that those called by God to celibacy will most likely be the primary ones physically relocating to serve the poor and dying around the world–rendering unnecessary that difficult tension of “How can I serve God’s kingdom when I’m just home with my kids all day?” that I saw so often in Protestant circles. Women really, genuinely struggled with that, with what I believe is the diminishment of marriage and motherhood as vocation. Myself included.
Now though I rejoice and rest in the fact that my life is presently comprised of mostly happy things. I can pray for those suffering and give what I have, but I also now see suffering as being potentially redemptive, and it will not be everyone’s cross at every point in time. So no need to wallow in survivor’s guilt or be constantly checking over my shoulder to see if I’m doing “enough.” I’m happy that I’m happy, for the blessings God has given me, and I’m also confident that when He does call on me to suffer, I will be given the graces to endure.
So how does all of that tie in with the news? I suppose because with the overabundance of real-time information available to us today, it is possible to become so caught up in what is happening somewhere else that our own peace and joy become eclipsed by some “national conversation” that is “needing” to happen. When in reality, our own present situation is either fairly rosy or is difficult in its own way (fellow mothers of small children, I’m talking to you), and in either case the last thing we probably need is to own a far-off burden that doesn’t belong to us in the first place. I’m not saying it’s bad to be informed (I like to be), and I’m not saying we shouldn’t know what’s going on in the world we inhabit (I do, and sometimes I even blog about it). But we occasionally also need to be reminded that we are merely responsible for stewarding what is right in front of us, today. In our own respective spheres of influence. And more often than not, that will probably be quite enough.
© 2013. Brianna Heldt. All Rights Reserved.