As I stood and recited the Prayers of the People in a Wednesday night healing service I was suddenly overwhelmed. The people in attendance were scattered, quiet, deep in thought. Each one of them was there to receive special prayer from the Priest in that intimate setting, but I only knew the reasons of one or two. We were all somewhat weary, and even in that state of weakness and powerlessness we were praying for the deliverance and comfort of the whole world, “for the prisoners and captives,” “for the unity of all peoples.” As I thought about each word I spoke I began to mean them deeply. Within a few brief moments I felt my face grow hot and tears begin to form. It was too much.
What could I do to mend divisions that caused nations, people groups, and communities to hate one another. For some, learning to love one person simply meant discovering another as an enemy. What could I do to fix this? I did not even know how to help the person in the pew in front of me. I had been told a while back that my mind functioned through problems and solutions, through creating grand goals for the future and plotting the path that would take me to them. The room was full of problems, the suffering of individuals, and the world was full of billions more.
I wiped a tear away. “It’s too much,” I prayed. “God, this is too much.” What does it mean to be Christ with all my limitations?
I remembered a moment from my Senior year of college. Having found a rocky but visible path through a few years of murky doubt, it was a time of evaluation. That year I lived with someone who was deeply troubled in so many ways. She was confronting herself, determining herself to be incompatible with the Christian faith and trying to find a different Christianity, one that accepted her without making any changes. In her mind she was at odds with everyone, so much so that the only option seemed to embrace it. It was so evident that she was consumed with innumerable insecurities behind her facade of confidence. I was having a difficult year, as well. I had piles of work and a list of responsibilities, and as a result, no patience to give to my roommate. I would provide her a few sentences of consolation when I saw her in tears, but I hardly ever indulged her when she was obviously fishing for my pity and attention. One day, however, I sat in a class about the book of Acts. We were discussing what it meant to be Christ — what it meant to take up a cross — what it meant to take up the task that Christ began. The professor asked us how we, who do not know the poverty, hunger, or violence in the world around us, can do this.
I rarely shared my thoughts in class, but for some reason I raised my hand on that occasion. “As a Senior,” I started without any tone of decision, “I am usually overcome with the desire to simply be done with everything. I don’t want to engage with any issue in the community. I just want to get through the next few weeks. It’s hard to be Christ. It’s hard to care.” I got a few grunts of approval from some of the other Seniors. “For me,” I continued, “I think realizing the suffering of the world would start in my bedroom. Christ became human, felt the pain of a human, absorbed the brokenness he encountered, and took it to the cross.” It was difficult to continue, “If I am going to be Christ, I must hurt when my roommate hurts.” I was talking to myself just as much as I was contributing to class discussion. “When she cries, I must cry.” It was clear to me then that suffering like Christ meant suffering with others regardless of where I found myself. The alleviation of suffering is only a byproduct of feeling the suffering you encounter.
Yes, feeling the aching of the world is too much for any one person. Resolving all conflict is too tall an order. Sometimes even caring is difficult when there is so much to sort through in your own life. It was so easy, as a citizen of the Western world, to think that I could figure it out — to read the scriptures as if I am preparing for a job interview. How can I be the solution?
But Christ did not commission one person. He told his followers each to strive to be Christ so that as a body they would be. Even more importantly, he told those gathered at his ascension that they would receive the power they needed to reach Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. It is the Holy Spirit within me that is overcome during the Prayers of the People, and his work begins in the pew in front of me.
Those tears–mine and his–wet my face like the waters of baptism, never meant to evaporate and disappear in this life. They are continual reminders of that to which I am called. They are reminders of Christ in me, the Christ who must flow out, who cannot stay dormant.