In the presence of love, everything else becomes small. Whatever seemed great is shattered and disintegrates; it is a picture of wretchedness and misery. What is a life full of pleasure, honor, fame, and glamour compared to a life lived in love? But of course the question does not stop here. It has a tremendously aggressive force and pushes on. What even is a life full of piety, morals, discipline, sacrifice, and self-denial if it is not a life lived in love?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Human Greatness under the Judgment of Love”
I’ve been having a wonderful time in Chiang Mai, and have seen incredible things, and that is not what this post is about.
As I mentioned, I am the Aftercare Intern for a small team in the office that investigates, prosecutes, and helps with the rehabilitation of victims in Child Sexual Assault (CSA) cases. The team, consisting of an investigator, a child psychologist, and 2 caseworkers, (with the CSA project manager, Jessica (the legal fellow), our part-time lawyer, and myself supporting them) spends almost every day out in the field, talking to clients, building cases, supporting clients in aftercare, and investigating case referrals.
I had all of these mental images of what people who worked on a CSA team, day in and day out, for years and years might be like, but they weren’t any of them. I was amazed by them. They were not numb or distant, they didn’t break down into tears in the office, they were not cold or serious, they weren’t emotionally haggard, or workaholics, their personal lives were not in shambles, they were not angry or bitter, they were fun people who loved the Lord and did their job well. They had their days that were harder than others, but mostly they were patient and welcoming and silly and cracked inappropriate jokes and sang to themselves at their desks. They were not afraid of the world, it had not made them hard, but they were also consistently proving themselves stronger than the darkest forces it had to throw at them.
As I was trying to understand that, I thought of Jesus, of the way he confronted darkness. Jesus did not burst into tears at the sight of the blind and the lame in his midst, he did not curse the structural injustices that had led to the isolation of the lepers, he did not indulge himself in self-righteous exaggerated empathy. Jesus, when confronted with the very real suffering of others, simply helped. One at a time. He did not go heal every sick person, he did not fret over all the blind he had not given sight to. This man was enough. Salvation had come to this man, or this woman, today, give glory to the Father for that.
Jesus’s healings are amazing not only in their power, but in their selflessness. That is how Jesus understands the suffering of the world; he makes it fundamentally not about himself. Human suffering is nothing more than the suffering of this human right here. And He could end that suffering for that human, and so He did.
The vanity of thinking the world is yours to save, the despair in realizing your own inability to do so, maybe this is really where much of our pain for the suffering of the world comes from.
It is, without a doubt, good to evaluate your heart, to measure what you are and are not capable of. But maybe the constant monitoring of our own hearts when exposed to the trauma of others that breaks us. When sitting in that first case meeting, seeing my hand shake, I found that all I could think about was how I wasn’t sure I could handle it, and how I was reacting, and what was wrong with me. And while I was thinking about all of that, about how upset I was, you know who I was thinking least about? Our client. I was so afraid of the fragility of my own heart that I never gave it a chance to focus on what truly matters, loving those we serve. And when I did, I began to realize it wasn’t as fragile as I had imagined.
When we commit our hearts to those we serve, instead of our own well-being, God has a way of providing for both.
So maybe the best way to care for ourselves better is simply to care for others better. Maybe that is how my team is so strong, and is such an unshakable force for good; they’ve simply decided its not about them. We have work to do, and if God sent us here, he made us strong enough to handle it with His help. Maybe if you really want to help others, then you have to learn to die to self first. Our work is not about saving the world, its about individual children who we were individually sent to help when they most needed someone.
I think this place may be starting to re-weave the fabric of my soul, and isn’t that a blessing. I have always been a bit of a fighter, a crusader. But God is slowly dismantling all my assumptions about what it means to “take up your cross.” I’ll let you know more about that as I figure it out, but its safe to say, it is a much quieter, humbler cross I think I’ve been handed.
There is so much more I have to learn from this office and from this team and from the other interns, but I already feel so blessed by what I have learned. I’ve appreciated the support and prayers of everyone so much, and couldn’t thank you all enough. Keep me in your prayers and enjoy your advent season!