“And the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12b)
Last summer my granddaughter Hope asked me what I most feared. I told her that what most scared me was that I would lose my ability to love others. I think I share this fear with many other people today. We hear so much about what we have come to call “compassion fatigue.” We are overwhelmed with the needs of so many people near and far who suffer so much that even our best intentions to care bend like heated metal in a forge. Indeed, desensitizing ourselves to the plight of others in pain often becomes a veritable survival technique for us. British singer/songwriter David Gray released “My Oh My” several years ago, a song that gives voice to my own fear of losing my ability to care.
What on earth is goin’ on in my heart? / Has it turned as cold as stone?
Seems these days I don’t feel anythin’ / ‘Less it cuts me right down to the bone.
What on earth is goin’ on in my heart? /
‘Cause my oh my, you know just don’t stop / It’s in my mind, I want to tear it up.
And tryin’ to fight it, tryin’ to turn it off / But it’s not enough
It takes a lotta love / It takes a lotta love my friend / To keep your heart from freezing’
To push on till the end / My oh my.
All of us would do well to fight with every fiber of our being against the possibility of letting our love grow cold. “It takes a lotta love, my friend, to keep your heart from freezin’ and to push on till the end.” Christians would say it takes God’s love to generate the kind of human love that refuses to quit caring for others. Such love “never fails.” Yet sometimes we don’t see the final evidence of the never failing love of God. We are indeed a broken people.
This month we showed The Secret Life of Bees for our movie series. The film is based on Sue Monk Kidd’s book of the same title. Kidd explores the depth of women’s experiences of pain and loss, in particular that of African American women during the height of the Civil Right’s Movement. One character in the story is May Boatwright, the twin sister to April Boatwright. April and May were as close to each other as is humanly possible. They shared the depth of each other’s lives. So when April dies in childhood, May takes in the pain of the separation she feels deep within herself. Not only is she sensitized to the pain of losing her sister. She becomes hyper sensitive to all persons who suffer, both near and far. So powerful is her sensitivity to others that it threatens to undo her. So her older sister August Boatwright encourages her to build a “wailing wall” in their back yard. Whenever May feels the pain of others in herself, whether from her family and friends or from the nation and the world, she writes the names of those who suffer on small pieces of paper and, like the rabbis in Jerusalem, tucks the paper prayers into her wall. Her “wailing wall” allows her to externalize her suffering in an act of prayer to God, and therefore to make her own suffering bearable because God shares her burden.
Tragically, however, May succumbs to the weight of suffering within herself and she takes her own life. The weight of the human condition is just too oppressive for her sensitive spirit. Caring for others, being sensitive to the suffering in others, is always a risk. Many of us are tempted to steel our hearts against the pain. A few of us like May succumb to the pain. And none of us, even those who are most sensitive, know the depth of the suffering that only God knows. Let us always fight against “compassion fatigue.” But let us also know that it is God alone who bears the full burden of the human condition and for that reason provides us a way to love beyond what we are capable.