“What’s wrong with people?” This question has been bouncing around my social circles lately, as we all bear witness to seemingly escalating conflicts on both macro and micro levels. Whether it’s Russia attacking Ukraine or the friend who has turned against us, the struggle of human aggression is real.
I think most of us have imagined we were beyond these kinds of problems by now as a civilization, like humanity had emerged from adolescence into adulthood with all the skills needed to manage conflict, show kindness to one another, and act rationally. We thought we were done with the drama, the pettiness, and the violence. Or at least we think we should be.
The prophets express this same sentiment over and over in the Old Testament - "What's wrong with people?" - such as in Isaiah chapter five:
“My beloved had a vineyard
on a very fertile hill.
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
He built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
...What more was there to do for my vineyard
that I have not done in it?
When I expected it to yield grapes,
why did it yield wild grapes?”
This is what makes the gospel so breathtakingly beautiful. God has lived with our human mess-ups throughout the history of humankind, his heart repeatedly broken by our waywardness despite all he has poured into our flourishing. And he has chosen to respond to that with Jesus, bearing the weight of our sin. He has also responded with the hope of eternity.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed in us.” (Romans 5:18)
Mindfulness and Jesus’ gospel both tell us that threats and pain will always be with us, and we can’t escape that. But they both tell us that we're also okay.
“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
We have what we need to get through the inevitable and repetitive violence of the human condition.
I’m working not to put my trust in humans figuring it all out – there is no amount of modernization, therapy, or political wrangling that can make the world act right. Even as God works through these human engagements with progress (keep voting and going to therapy!), my salvation and trust belongs only in God, who has the long view in mind. He knows humans will keep messing it up and hurting each other. He’ll keep walking with us through the pain, and he is writing a much bigger story than how people treat each other on earth, reminding us that this current suffering is but a flash in the pan.
There’s an old story that has stuck with me about this ability to stay grounded when under threat.
“During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. ‘You fool,’ he shouted as he reached for his sword, ‘don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!’ But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. ‘And do you realize,’ the master replied calmly, ‘that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?’"
This is not a Biblical parable, but it contains a reflection of God’s redemptive promise to us. We are not promised a world where powerful bullies will not charge into our lives and threaten us with swords. But we are promised peace, the knowledge that whether or not we get run through with those swords, we are okay in the larger scheme of things. We are part of a bigger story. Our well-being and our responses do not depend on the behavior of others.
I appreciate how mindfulness practice brings me back to this calm center in a turbulent world. I don’t have to fix the world to feel okay. As a Christian, I can use mindfulness to get quiet enough to hear God, to loosen my grip enough to receive God’s provision, and to recognize that salvation comes from God alone. It's the long view.
Come what may, we are all held in God’s hand and he has the big (good) picture in mind.
I am Irene Kraegel. I am licensed as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based university campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
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