Today my family here all saw the movie Wonder (Extraordinario en Español) for three dollars eaches.* I’m not going to give any spoilers, except maybe for tone. We all cried. All five of us. I just asked my ten-year-old son and he said, with no shame, “Yeah, once.” I cried a lot.
It reminded me of some things. I love that kind of filmmaking.
I’ve said this before, more than once, and I’ll say it again: the world is an awful place and its getting worse. I’m not a pessimist, a fatalist, or a philatelist.** I simply see a lot of pain in the world and extrapolate how much suffering and injustice must happen that I don’t see. When we started the little school here in our barrio a few years ago, we joked that it was because of a certain boy who couldn’t read his own name and really needed help and better options. We started the school and the school is still running, with a circle of Nicaraguan women serving as teachers. Subsequently we started a preschool, too.
But that boy? He barely attended. He hangs out with the borrachos, playing cards and, I presume, drinking. He’s 14 or 15 now. Other days I see him on a different street, hanging out with a harder crowd.
I remember vividly Kim’s first year of teaching in inner-city Los Angeles, which was rough except for when it was brutal. She felt miserable for the kids she could see were not making it. In that barrio, the other option if kids did not thrive in school was to drop out and join a gang. She could see 5th graders already very clearly heading that direction. We talked through this around and around and finally reached a somber, disheartening conclusion: you can’t save everyone. You can only help those who are willing to be helped, who will take your help and act on it.
That may be a law of the universe. It’s certainly true in every area in which I’ve worked, from pastoring to counseling to coaching to teaching. God has yet to answer my prayer to suspend someone else’s free will (temporarily, of course) so I can make better choices for them. I’ve actually stopped praying that. It took a while. Even I learn, eventually.
So the world’s a sucky place, full of misery, unrelenting poverty, and systemic injustice, full of greedy people who will cause other people’s suffering for profit. Some of them even look at themselves in the mirror daily and sleep soundly with untroubled dreams. People say, “Why do I have to, you know, repent, why do I have to ask forgiveness if I’m not making mistakes?”
Bet you didn’t see that coming.
Okay, let me rephrase that more theologically. I cannot change evil people in the world. I can oppose their evil. I can speak truth to power. I can try to brighten my tiny speck of the world by encouraging everyone who comes into my path, by praying for all the people I pass, by entering into some lives when people will let me and sharing the wisdom these burn scars have earned me.
But scripture is clear that some people harden their hearts to the truth, some people delight in false gain (that would be screwing people over for profit), and many people will not respond to the truth even if someone rises from the dead right in front of them. God loves everyone but not everyone cares to be loved like that. Some people would rather “sell the poor for a pair of sandals,” as the prophets would say. And I’m not one to revel in judgment, but that’s not going to go well. Of that, I’m certain.
I can’t fix them, I can’t change them, I can’t make them repent. I leave them to God. Maybe some of their lives will be redeemed. I pray they will.
Looping back to the movie, it reminded me why I write this blog in the first place. It reminded me why I do a lot of things. My purposes aren’t pure and I am the first to remind us that we all have mixed, conflicting motives about virtually everything.
But it really comes to this: I write to make the world a better place. I write to alleviate suffering, to increase joy, to help people know they are loved and that they can have hope. Hope is elusive, joy can seem out of reach, and sometimes discouragement speaks louder than anything else. So with whatever gift I have, I want to speak truth that helps you hear God’s voice. If you don’t believe in God, I can’t change that for you but I can tell you that you are loved. I hope you believe me. I know it’s true.
I’m writing about joy deeper than happiness and knowing that I’m loved even over the voice of my own self-criticism. I’m writing about how loving others heals us because that’s how we’re designed and I’m grateful for that, in action.
Sometimes I write about ultimate or cars or nature or abused horses. Sometimes I write about newly-paved roads or friends coming and going. Often it’s this Nicaragua Diary I’m keeping, to help people see how living here looks, at least from my perspective.
But always, I’m trying to make a difference. When people tell me I’ve encouraged them or that they can relate to my struggle, I know it’s working. I’ve heard that enough to keep writing, even when I labor over a post and few people notice it, even when the voice in my head shouts, “Why bother? Just quit!”
The world is beautiful, too. Great people live here. Funny, wonderful, generous people, including those who have too little to share and share anyway. I’ve seen them. I greet them every day. People who are brave beyond what you can imagine just by getting up in the morning, but they go on and do more. People who have every conceivable right to hold grudges and be bitter instead show grace.
And the world goes on as if that isn’t a miracle, but it is, Dear Reader. It is.
If people don’t want to read about that,
perhaps they can find their inspiration elsewhere.
I’m going to keep trying to change the world.
I want you to make the world better, too, because it needs it and you can and, ultimately, that’s your calling. In whatever way you can, in whatever way God’s gifted you, love people and help this lacerated, sorrowing world know a little more joy, a touch more beauty, a bit more wonder.
Now, if you can, see that movie.
*Name that book.
**That’s actually true; I collect baseball cards.