Kevin Ressler is executive director at Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and co-founder of the Lancaster Action Now Coalition. He attends Community Mennonite Church […]
Marathana Prothro is assistant professor of communication at Bluffton (Ohio) Univeristy. This editorial ran in the special youth convention edition of The Mennonite magazine that she helped to edit in Orlando.
LET ME FILL YOU IN on a little secret. This exuberant rush, the on-top-of-the-world feeling you have right now, is not going to last.
Trust me, friends. I’ve been there. No one prepared me for this brutal truth when I was in high school. I wish they had. I can’t guarantee I would have listened, but it might have saved a little bit of heartache, guilt or self-loathing.
The tracks for the emotional convention rollercoaster have reliably run in the same pattern for many years. You arrive and ogle the sea of attractive peers among whom you hope to find a kindred spirit. You realize you’re part of something bigger than yourself. You belong. You are beloved. You go into a valley where you begin to realize your faults just before you encounter the overwhelming darkness of your brokenness. Next you find hope and redemption in Christ before celebrating that sacred view from the mountaintop.
If you’ve ever actually reached the summit of a mountain, you know that your gaze is most naturally drawn to the peaks in the distance. When you’re up that high, you dare not look down for fear of falling.
It’s easy to think, “Yes! I am so fired up right now. I see all that’s possible and can’t wait to hop on over to that summit over there. High five, Jesus!”
But don’t be afraid to look down. Take in the whole picture. See those dark valleys AND the peaks in the distance. Notice everything in between. This is the entirety of our human experience.
Not everyone will finish this week at the top of the mountain. Some of us are still doing our best to make it up the incline. Others are so deep in the valley they may doubt the summit even exists.
The question is: what do you DO after you’ve had a chance to celebrate and rest in that beauty?
The Christian walk is not about figuring out how to hold our ground at the top. Will we be courageous enough to venture into the valley to journey alongside our brothers and sisters? Will we be vulnerable enough to accept accompaniment from others when we’re walking through a valley?
It may be tempting to just yell, “Hey, I feel so bad for you down there in the valley. You don’t even know what you’re missing! Hurry up and GET HERE!”
This sympathetic response may come from a place of good intentions, but it just isn’t helpful. What our friends, church, country and world need is empathy.
Empathy means you don’t just feel FOR those who are hurting, you feel WITH those who are hurting.
Jesus shows us time and again what empathy looks like. It’s sitting with someone others have forsaken. It means putting ourselves in the place of others. It means crossing boundaries and challenging systems that make life harder for those already in the valley.
It means taking Love as a Verb and making it a way of life.
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