I dig my toes into the sand of a different shore today. I’m awed by the beauty the ocean takes on in this place that is different from the beauty I see from the shores of my home town. The waves crash big and blue here, taking my breath away as they loudly proclaim the glory of God. I sit at the edge as the water rushes up to my toes and quickly back again, knowing that boundary is marked by the very finger of God, and not just some random happenstance.
I’m caught today in the dichotomy of this beauty mingled with the sorrow of indescribable evil just past the other side of this ocean I stare into today. I watch as a little bitty girl runs up to the edge and then races backwards, squealing with delight as the waves touch her toes. Waves that touch her toes because a good Father in heaven said so, and because He loves to delight His children. I imagine the expression on the Father’s face as He watches her, so full of LIFE and joy, innocence and freedom.
But I can’t help holding the beauty of this moment up to the antithetical reality of the moments taking place just on the other side of this vast display of His greatness. Mothers and fathers, throwing their beloved children off the side of cliffs to save them from the hands of oppressors so embodied by evil that some of us here in the land of the free can’t even begin to comprehend. Of women and girls being captured and sold as sex slaves for one reason – because they love Jesus and won’t renounce His great Name.
On the other side of me two little boys are throwing themselves wildly into the crashing waves, going under and coming up laughing hysterically. And I can’t get the pictures out of my mind of the little boys and girls lying in that moment waiting to have their heads chopped off, wailing for mommies and daddies who can’t do anything to save their precious children.
I could ask, “Why?” and if I did, that would be the end. Because I know the answer to that question and at the same time, I also know that it is a question without an answer. I know that asking “why?” is a dead end, and leads to paralyzation. When I ask “Why?” in the face of horrific evil, it becomes a stumbling block to my prayers. It’s not that God disparages our “why’s” – and I have spent plenty of time there. But there is one thing I know today, and that is that those men and women and children who love the same Jesus I do – it does them no good for me to get lost in their “why?”…..
So as the breeze blows on my face and the sunshine warms my whole body, as I listen to the wild laughter of free children – children free for now, only because they were born on a different side of this glorious display of God’s wonder – the tears begin to flow. I want to move beyond the “why,” so I start to pour out my heart to the God who sits enthroned above. The God who delights in the wild abandon of these children at the same time that he is filled with sorrow and compassion for the ones on the other side. Somehow his heart holds it all while mine overflows with anguish and sits uncomfortable in the duality of it all.
I don’t know how other people process this kind of evil in the world. I don’t know how others slot these world events into their tables of understanding good and evil – how you process things that are impossible to process. I think universally we all feel helpless when confronted with such atrocity. In blogging about my own experiences of being trafficked for sex throughout my childhood, I have encountered the gamut of people’s abilities and inabilities to process hearing about overwhelming horror. So many times, I have found friends here, those of you willing to submit yourselves to the pain and confusion of staring evil in the face – of hearing the truth and then living with the confusion and dichotomy of the world you see and the world you now hear of.
I want you to know – even through all that I have experienced, I am with you in that place today. The life my own children know and the one I grew up with are like oil and water. And I am well acquainted with this unlikely mixture of joy and pain, hope and despair, peace and travail. As we confront the events unfolding in our world today, while perhaps viewing them in sharp contrast to the relative ease and freedom of our life on this side of that ocean, a cognitive dissonance arises that can shut us down, silencing our prayers, distracting our thoughts, and drawing us into confusion and numbness. But I don’t want to stay stuck there – mostly because I know that my brothers and sisters on the other side of the world need me to stay present with them in prayer – to not abandon them in my confusion and heartache and questions.
So, as I sit here, caught between the reality of two worlds so different, unraveled by the dichotomy, one image is pushing its way to the forefront of my mind. It is an image that has brought incredible healing and peace to my own pain. As I focus there, a prayer is beginning to emerge from my lips. I thought I would share it with you today, just in case you are paralyzed by “why?” or afraid to think about it long enough to figure it out. I’m opening my thoughts and heart here on this page today for those who desperately want to pray for Christians in Iraq, but don’t know where to start. I want to shine a light on one path here where there are many, so that those caught in the paralyzation of desperation that leaves you without words can still lift up words to a Father in heaven who does not stand far off.
This is definitely NOT the only way to pray for this situation. No. There are many prayers that God will cause to rise up on behalf of His people. Tomorrow my own prayers my take a turn towards justice….or mercy for these oprressors. And I want you to remember that your tears and groans mean just as much as any words that could come from your lips. Or that those scriptures you read this morning ARE the prayers meant to tumble out of your mouth. So today, I simply offer the one prayer that keeps rising to my lips today in desperation on behalf of our sisters and brothers in Iraq. And it comes from a place deep inside me, a revelation that has brought so much healing to me as I have faced my own evil oppressors.
“Father, I have known evil. I know the sheer terror that those children are feeling as they stare into the face of utter evil, intent on destroying their bodies because of their innocence. I can’t get their faces out of my mind. I can hear the screaming and the agony of their precious parents who can’t do anything to help their beloved children.
Jesus, I ask one thing here. As they stare into the face of evil incarnate, let them see your eyes instead. As they lay there, tormented in body, mind and spirit, come to them and reveal your very own face to them. Let them see your eyes, Jesus and let them feel your hands on them, holding them and calming them straight into your arms. Grant the same to their parents. Let them see YOU holding them and their precious children in Your arms. As they close their eyes and look away, let your eyes be the only thing they see as you welcome them home.“
Maybe we need the same comfort today – to gaze directly into His eyes.
“Because he loves me,” says The Lord, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” Ps. 91:14-16