My heart is troubled, but I am not disheartened

May 11th, 2020

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

White vigilantes shot Ahmaud Arbery to death. He was a 25-year-old unarmed black man jogging through their neighborhood. Viewing Arbery through the lens of their own prejudice, they presumed that a running black man must be a criminal.

Initially, there were no arrests. Prosecutors insisted that Georgia law justified the killing. After widespread public outrage, the killers have been arrested. Slavery ended more than a century and a half ago, and yet we still contend not only with the narrow-minded hate of individual bigots but also with laws that protect violent actions motivated by racism.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

The death toll in the US from the COVID-19 virus has topped 70,000. Worldwide the number is approaching 300,000. A tsunami of suffering, grief, and anxiety is crashing over us.

Millions have lost their jobs. Businesses have shuttered. Families face shortages of life’s essentials. Those with the fewest resources at the beginning of the pandemic have been hardest hit.

We are all feeling the strain, especially since none of us can see clearly when this will end and what the new normal will be like. And yet some refuse to take even simple measures to protect their vulnerable neighbors from infection.

My heart is troubled. But I am not disheartened.

When I dwell on the state of things, I am sad and outraged, anxious and appalled. To borrow a phrase from Anne Lamott, I think “such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.” In other words, my heart is troubled.

Some of you might be tempted to share with me an especially Jesus-y sounding bit of advice. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” (John 14:1) So, let me just be straight up here:

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If you’re telling me—if Jesus were telling me—that having faith means that the world won’t break my heart, give me a migraine, and sometimes send me running for the airsickness bag, then I’ll never be faithful. Count me out. Because I don’t see how you can love in the midst of this beautiful, horrifying, electrifying, messy place called Earth without being shattered.

Now I don’t mean that life on this planet is only a crushing weep fest. My spirit soars at the everyday heroism of medical workers and the naive goofiness of my grandchildren. Sunrises and starry nights leave me breathless. My dog Gracie... well, don’t get me started.

And yet, greed, selfishness, violence, prejudice, oppression, and poverty stir something deep within me. These ways of being—and the carnage they leave in their wake—cannot stand. We must resist them. We must persevere in our pursuit of a world in which every human being is treated with the dignity they deserve as the beloved children of God, a world where no one is expendable, no one is replaceable. In other words, we cannot allow ourselves to be disheartened.

As it turns out, that’s what Jesus was telling his friends on the night before he died. Here’s my rather loose and very amplified translation of the passage I mentioned above:

Don’t give up. Hang in there. Keep loving like I’ve been teaching you. Things will get messy, and loving will leave a mark. But I’m in this with you. Sometimes it won’t seem like we’re getting anywhere, but trust me, love wins. (John 14:1)

In other words, Jesus acknowledges that walking the way of love is arduous. We may grow weary and feel discouraged, but we do not walk alone. Jesus walks with us. Or more accurately, he dwells within us as both guide and source of strength.

Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, frequently draws on the text of Spirituals to make Jesus’ point. And I find those hymns especially moving: “Sometimes I feel discouraged/ And think my life in vain/ But then the Holy Spirit/ Revives my soul again./ There is a balm in Gilead (Song My Grandma Sang, loc. 124) Or again, “Walk together children/ Don’t you get weary.” (loc. 1328)

I admit. At the moment, my heart is troubled. Maybe yours is, too. But I am not disheartened.

A Troubled Heart originally appeared at Looking for God in Messy Places. Reprinted with permission.

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