You don’t have to go very far to see injustice in this world. Children are being separated from their families daily, people of color are being shot and killed without cause, and the educational divide is astounding. Women are dying in childbirth in industrialized countries, water is riddled with disease in parts of America, and the lack of nutrition in impoverished areas is startling. People are being trafficked all over the globe and forced to do things they never wanted to do. Child abuse is going strong in and outside the church and divorce is on the rise. Recidivism is a consistent and our jails and prisons are filled to the brims with a disproportionate number of black males. And these are just the things that I could think of off the top of my head.
We live in a broken and hurting world. I’m sure we all know at least one person who is walking through something and needs a dose of hope, empathy, and grace. And, I don’t know about you, but oftentimes I struggle to dish those things out appropriately.
In Nehemiah 5, we see just how dire the situation is for the Jewish people. They come to Nehemiah and begin to outline what’s going on and it’s not pretty.
“Now there arose a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. For there were those who said, “With our sons and our daughters, we are many. So let us get grain, that we may eat and keep alive.” There were also those who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses to get grain because of the famine.” And there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. Now our flesh is as the flesh of our brothers, our children are as their children. Yet we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters have already been enslaved, but it is not in our power to help it, for other men have our fields and our vineyards.”
I was very angry when I heard their outcry and these words.” Nehemiah 5:1-6 (ESV)
Did you notice that Nehemiah wasn’t afraid to feel for the people? He didn’t listen to these folks dispassionately, he wasn’t focused on his mission of rebuilding the wall, he wasn’t too preoccupied to pay attention to them—instead, he took time out of his busy schedule so they could be heard.
And we’re busy people, just like Nehemiah was. We have lives and families and work and obligations. We’re constantly on the go and just seem to be getting busier and busier as time goes on. In the hustle and bustle of it all, it’s really easy to set ourselves on autopilot to conserve the little energy that we do have. I would imagine that many of us are stressed and stretched too far, sleep too little, and have more responsibilities than we remember signing up for.
But this autopilot way of living doesn’t match how Jesus lived.
Jesus was a busy guy. He was focused on teaching people, healing people, and pointing those who were hurting and lost back to the Father. He had a lot to accomplish, and yet he didn’t turn away opportunities to listen to people. He had the ultimate perspective—he’s God after all—and could see the big picture, but wasn’t afraid to come down into the details of someone’s life to bring them hope and peace. So why can’t we do the same?
Honestly, I’m not very good at this. I tend to get so wrapped up in what I’m doing that I want to rush through the people portion of life, but I’m learning that the people part is the most beautiful part of life, even though it’s infinitely messy. I’m learning the value of hearing others and giving them a safe space to express themselves and it’s been amazing to see God speak to them when I dare to just shut up and listen.
My challenge for each of us is to find someone to listen to today, whether or not our day is good. I hope and pray that we are able to set aside our own thoughts, feelings, and desires and empathize with someone else for just a moment. Many times, in my experience, not a lot needs to be said; just sitting with another can be enough. Simply being with someone can make a tremendous difference, like we see with Nehemiah and the people.
We will get into the ‘doing’ part of this chapter, but first, I pray that we have the courage to sit and empathize with those who are hurting.
Do you ever struggle with sitting with someone in their pain? Or do you want to immediately try to ‘fix’ the problem?
What’s one way you can create a safe space for someone else to be heard today?