I just had my first experience with a natural disaster. Hurricane Florence devastated much of our state, we were spared, but so many weren’t. We waited anxiously the week before, wondering the best way to prepare, pulling out flashlights, purchasing propane, washing out tubs to fill with water and checking our food reserves. We watched the weather channel incessantly, and wondered- should we leave? Curiosity made us stay, that and trust in our hilly residence. As we watched that ominous white swirl move ever closer, my innards matched its movement, twisting ever tighter. In the end, nothing much happened- for us. But scenes of the catastrophe of our neighbors have sorrowed me, moved me.
We are very open with our kids, and as is the norm we talked about the oncoming storm, even took a vote of whether to stay or go (when it looked like we’d be hit bad.) They elected to stay. They, like me, wanted the adventure of experiencing a hurricane. They thrillingly biked through our flooded street, and danced in the downpour.
But now that the storm has passed, how much of its wreckage do I share with my children. I often wonder how much of the world’s hardships to expose my children to. I’ve shown them scenes of the flooding, talked about the deaths, and we’ve tried to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have been displaced and are now homeless. As a result, my boys, whose prayers are usually- “We thank thee for clean water. (Thanks to a book about children in Africa walking all day to get water.) and “Bless us to have fun today,” have now added, “Please bless those whose homes have been destroyed by the hurricane.” They have sensed the need for their faith, the need for God’s help. I rejoice to hear my children pray for things that are meaningful. It always disturbs me that the majority of their pleas are for “fun” days. I’m not convinced that God is interested in making our lives more “fun.” Meaningful, yes. Fun, I don’t think so. But I digress.
So if awareness incites empathy, how much exposure is best? It occurred to me tonight, as I pondered this, perhaps the reason Christ asked the crippled, sick, and lame to be brought to him was not just to heal them, but to bring awareness to the rest of the multitude of their humanity, their sameness.
Tonight I spent an hour reading essays by Mormon women. Their open vulnerable stories were heavy and disturbing. The kind you want to skim through, to spare yourself the heartache. And yet as I read their words, trusted them, believed them; instead of a break, I felt a softening and blossoming-awareness inciting empathy. I was taught as a child to not read such accounts, that it would weaken my testimony. I can see the merit in that advice. Perhaps its why I wonder how much of the world’s problems to lay before my children. Will the burden of it strip them of their childhood? Will it weigh them down with worries and cripple a healthy development?
Whenever I take that side, I am faced with the fact that God does no such thing for his children. Children are born to parents that God knows will abuse them. Children are born in countries that can’t provide for them. Why? I can’t help but wonder if my own privilege makes it difficult for me to tease out the real meaning of life. Perhaps the test is simply how will we respond to what we’re served. And going back to my original question, how much should we serve our children the struggles that are not naturally theirs? Perhaps that’s its own test? Can we extend ourselves past our own selfish existence? Are we willing to truly see the sick, lame, blind or halt, the maimed, leprous and withered, the deaf and those that are afflicted in any manner? (3 Nephi 14:7) To see them for them and not their affliction?
I’m reading “The Poisonwood Bible” right now. It’s contributed to this quandary. The book tells of a Baptist family who goes to The Congo as missionaries. They arrive self-righteously determined to bring “light” into a “dark” country. Only as trial and tribulation humble them, do they start to see the humanity and light in the people around them. To see them as humans and not just sinners. Thrown in the fire of affliction their privilege is stripped from them and they are left bare but with eyes wide open. Only then do they find the truth. Perhaps the meaning of our existence is to find truth. Truth, those experiences/thoughts/feelings that permeate our soul and change the way we interpret life and its meaning. One doesn’t need higher education, or really any formal education to come to great truth. Ease can be a barrier to finding truth, as one doesn’t sense the immediacy and need for deeper understanding. Hardship can inspire questions like “Why?” in a way that prosperity doesn’t. Just as my children are more sensitive and thoughtful in their prayers after confronting another person’s hardship, hardship- our own or others has the possibility to be the strongest means of drawing us unto God.
So why do we run from it? Why do we assume we’ve been cursed when we’re faced with it? Is it such a travesty that some children in Africa never have a childhood? Or should envy their awareness and appreciation for the essential things- life, breath, family. From the Poisonwood Bible:
“Children should never die.”
“No. But if they never did, children would not be so precious.”
“Anatole! Would you say that if your own children died?”
“Of course not. But it is true, nevertheless. Also if everyone lived to be old, then old age would not be such a treasure.”
Do we undermine our children’s ability to treasure those things of greatest import, by shielding them from the potential loss of those things? And what of ourselves, are we willing to face the heartbreak in order to find the hope?