D.L. Mayfield (Danielle) writes masterfully and thoughtfully about theology, racism and poverty, and I always listen carefully to what she has to say because she writes from a place of integrity. She and her family are pursuing ‘downward mobility’ – choosing to sell up and live in the inner city, in community and fellowship with those in poverty. I’m honoured to have her here today:
“You sure say you are overwhelmed a lot,” my mentor mentioned to me one day. “And yet, when I look at your life—you don’t look overwhelmed. You are busy, you are doing a lot of different work, you are reaching out to others—so what do you mean by overwhelmed?”
I was stumped. If I tried to put it into more concrete words I couldn’t. But I will try here: the problem was that my brain would never shut off. I had a constant litany of questions in my head. I was teaching and living and working with people on the lower socio-economic scale in America, and the challenges and traumas and inequalities were piling up on top of me, one after another. I was being forced to reckon with how unreconciled our world was, which was causing me to wonder how reconciled I was to God and my fellow neighbor. Every decision, every relationship, felt fraught with both joy and complications, a way to experience resurrection and also a way to horribly muck things up ever further. I was overwhelmed that the world was so beautiful and terrible, overwhelmed by a very good God who let very bad things happen, all the time. The more my simple and easy solutions failed (literacy classes! Baking Christmas cookies for the neighbors! Raising awareness!) the more undone I felt. I was unmoored in the sea of the realities of life.
So I said it, louder. I was overwhelmed. I got angry at others who did not feel the same as me—all of those nice people on Facebook and Pinterest and Instagram, living their normal lives while everyone I knew was falling apart. I tried to poke sticks at other people, bring up genocides and conflicts and statistics on poverty and racism. I wanted them to bleed like I was bleeding too. I wanted others to be overwhelmed, just as I was. Of course, this only alienated me further. And so the cycle continued.
But soon enough, I found them. My tribe. The crazy emotional, the broken, the ridiculous, the happy-one-minute-sobbing-into-their-coffee-the-next tribe. I found people who very much believed in God and got very very angry with him at the state of the world. I found them in the place I least expected, the place I was scared to go all along. I found them in the Bible.
I read the psalms and the prophets especially. Those crazy-eyed, crazy haired, crazy-hearted artists. Absolutely messed up people who just kept trudging along on the path that God had put before them, completely overwhelmed by life. They made glorious songs and poems and proclamations; they sat down in the mud and cried piteously, forlorn. They made terrible choices in their own lives even as they warned others not to do the same. They struggled to love their neighbors, they struggled with how the good news was actually good. They never stopped railing against injustice, they never stopped reminding the people of God that we weren’t suppose to meekly accept how un-reconciled we are to each other.
I read of their ups and downs, and it soothed me. I was allowed to be with them, in their extremes. I was allowed to be myself. I was allowed to be overwhelmed, and I wasn’t rushed to the tidy, theologically correct end. I was discovering a God who could handle all my upset and questions, I was discovering a God who was not placidly unconcerned about our world—in fact, this God of the Bible seemed to have some very intense emotions too. And I loved him for it, dearly. It drew me close to him, made me pay more attention to the passages where he did promise resurrection and redemption. It made the words of the end of the Bible, in the book of Revelation, stand out like electricity: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said “see, I am making all things new. Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:3-5)
And even though I am overwhelmed, I write them down. Because he is here. Dwelling with me, and everyone I know, even now.
D.L. Mayfield has written for McSweeneys, Christianity Today, and The Other Journal, among other publications. Her book of essays is forthcoming from HarperOne in 2016. You can find her blog here and her Twitter here.
[tweetit]“I found my tribe in the place I least expected” – @d_l_mayfield on God and Suffering for Tanya_Marlow. Overwhelmed:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”I wanted them to bleed like I was bleeding too. I wanted others to be overwhelmed, just as I was.”- @D_L_Mayfield:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]“I was…overwhelmed by a very good God who let very bad things happen, all the time.”– D_L_Mayfield for @Tanya_Marlow:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]“I was discovering a God who could handle all my upset and questions” – @D_L_Mayfield for @Tanya_Marlow- Overwhelmed:[/tweetit]
[tweetit]”I found people who very much believed in God and got very angry with him at the state of the world.”- @D_L_Mayfield:[/tweetit]
Over to you:
- What helps you when you feel overwhelmed by the world’s suffering (and your own)?