Tragedy of Plenty

Recently at a retreat, someone asked why everyone's story about God in their lives has to contain tragedy.  I wonder if that doesn't have something to do with this quote of C.S. Lewis:

“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”    

We don't always hear or see God when our lives are going well.  When the bills are paid, the belly full, the health intact, what need do we have of a god, really?  We have become our own gods, taking care of our own needs. I think it is the burden of the American church, really.  We simply don't need God.  We can believe in him.

Missionaries I know serving in Uganda desperately need God.  They need God to make sure that the support checks come.  They need God to provide the next meal for a desperate family in their village.  They need God to heal individuals who have been hurt, sick or brutalized.  They need God.  God is far more than a belief.  He is their only hope.

It is in a gift of desperation-often a tragedy for those of us who are employed, well fed, and healthy-that we glimpse this.  That isn't to say that we need God less than those missionaries in Uganda.  It is simply that we cannot see our need, or feel our pain, because of our plenty.  Even those of us who are "poor," which is really to say less wealthy, have plenty.  Plenty of house to clean.  Plenty of food to buy.  Plenty of work to do.  Plenty of entertainment to distract.  We have so much that we rarely take the time to listen to the hollow places in our hearts that cry out to God.

Today I sit here, in plenty, and I am angry at God.  I have been for 2 days.  Well, probably more than that, but I only became aware of it Saturday.  On one hand, I feel duped but on the other, I know there is no one else, nothing else to which to appeal.  And that frustrates me. 

I am frustrated that life has to be so painful.  See, I know that I need God.  I know that there is nothing else.  But I live and love people who are hurting, who don't think they can put one foot in front of the other for another day, who don't know where they will live next week.  I encourage them.  I pray for them.  I walk with them.  But that is all I can do. 

However, I know HE can do more.  I know he promises to do more.  So, when?  When would he like to show up and straighten out this mess?  And, if he is with us as my friend reminded me last week, where is he?  I am discouraged.  I can do nothing compared to the power of my God.  I know what God has done for me.  When is he planning to do that for the ones that I love who are in pain?  And how does one tolerate walking along side of such pain, powerless to do more than love my friends, while embarrassed that God doesn't do something?  One friend's wound is barely bandaged and another friend begins to bleed.  I feel like a nurse in the bush of Africa with limited supplies and no staff....and then I think...

I am a missionary.  I don't know how to do it well though.  There are no training courses for us who stay in our own land.  We just wing it.  In a land of plenty, the burden of need is stark and painful.  The need isn't just food and housing.  Sometimes the need is hope.  Sometimes it is worth.  Sometimes it is purpose, belonging, love and a seemingly million varieties of spiritual hunger that cannot be easily bandaged.  But I see all these needs through the eyes of one who has plenty, who lives in a land of plenty.  I forget that God seems most visible and most active when we admit, "You are our only Hope.  You, God, will, you must, provide."  Just as the missionaries in Uganda do.

This weekend, and often when I have eyes to see, I am able to watch missionaries at work.  I watch them collaborate to bring sustenance to those dying of a thirst that will not be quenched with drink.  I watch them share their hearts with others. I watch them support another as they walk together.  I watch them carry a burden for another on the journey.

I am still impatient for God to do something, though.  But I guess he is here.  In us.


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