Salvation in the Grieving


Beth Watkins -Salvation in Grieving3By Beth Watkins | Twitter: @iambethwatkins

Whenever I share about my life overseas, people comment that I chose a hard path. Perhaps I didn’t choose an easy road, but it was a great privilege to even be able to choose a path at all. This is no small thing. And though I endured some difficult things on this road, I still did that with the privilege of always having enough to eat, the comfort and safety of my home country available as a fallback, and a life full of people who love and would help me if I were ever to be in need.

This less-than-easy path bent me, perhaps, but it did not break me. What did break me, what really undid me, what grieved my heart to no end, was the suffering I saw in the lives of others. I went to the margins and befriended people there; and now life can never be the same. My ideas of what I think I deserve and a faith that doesn’t cost me anything or cause me to live differently, can never be the same.

Going to the margins opened my eyes.

When I pray for my refugee, street child, and vulnerable friends, I pray for God to be near to them.

But I know God is near them. Because I know where God is. God is with Mama M as she struggles with her health, putting kids through school, paying more at the market for food than locals, and braving two hours a day of commute where she endures abuse. God is with T who has been waiting more than a decade for resettlement, and within weeks of being approved, has been banned by the US–just for being a refugee. God is with my Egyptian friends who enter their churches each week, even in the fear their church could be the next one to be attacked. God is with the little girls selling their bodies for food.

God is with those who suffer. God is with the brokenhearted. God is with those who grieve.

I need to be on the margins because that is where God is. I need to give my life for the least because that is what Christ did. I need to keep choosing the path filled with the broken, because I need to be where Jesus is. I need to work with vulnerable people for my own salvation. I need to prop up those who don’t even get the option of a safe, easy path, because it is so easy to forget, to prop up myself, and think I deserve the opportunities I was born into.

I needed to be away from the American obsession with freedom, because some of us mistakenly believe this gives us the freedom to look away from the margins, and from those on the margins.

Freedom for Christians should be a different kind of freedom. It doesn’t free us from feeling responsible for our neighbors, accepting easy answers about poverty, or looking the other way when those on the top continue to profit from the poor. Nor do we have the freedom to look away from or silence those who grieve or are hurting.

Christians are not free from thinking critically about war, genocide, and crippling poverty. We certainly aren’t free from the troubled conscience that might come if we see we have a direct or indirect hand in those things. We are not free to turn a blind eye to our neighbors, to a stranger, or to our enemies. Instead, our freedom looks like the freedom to work for justice, to see our neighbors as ourselves, to quit the rat race, and to build up the common good.

I read the news, hear how my friends are doing, and see people struggle. I see murder, war, sickness, death, fear, and corruption. I see the harder roads that no one choses for themselves, and I don’t see enough people going to where they are. Some days I carry it like a weight strapped to my chest, and all I can do is grieve.

There is a passage in Ezekiel 8 and 9 where people in one corner bow and worship the sun, and people in another corner bow and worship other idols. There are all sorts of abominations in the temple and God is angry about it. Before the destruction of the idolaters, God has a cherub go and put a mark on the head of all those who grieved and groaned over the idolatry they saw.

And those are the ones who were spared–the ones who saw idolatry and were grieved. Their salvation was in the grieving.

May our spirits question easy answers. May our hearts beat with love for our neighbors and enemies. May we plant seeds, reap, and sow. Metaphorically, but also literally. Nourishing the hearts of others, but their bodies, too. May we care for the earth that feeds us and others. May we take the harder paths if we don’t already find ourselves on them.

May we go to the margins, and find Jesus there. May we shun anything that embraces the empire over the kingdom. May we be a voice for the oppressed. May we speak prophetically to the oppressors. If they do not listen, may we scream and kick and shout. May we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, and refuse to settle for the safe, easy paths that are only safe and easy for a few.

And when it is all too much, or when we begin to feel apathetic, when we are so, so tired, may we at the very least grieve over the evil and idolatry we see, instead of turning away from it.

When we have nothing left, when the margins break us as they are to do, may we find salvation in our grief.


About Beth:

IMG_20170110_143201_905Beth Watkins spent the last 6 years working in North and Sub-Saharan Africa with street children, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. She is currently settling back in the US with her immigrant husband and writes about living toward the kingdom of God and flailing awkwardly into neighbor-love at, where her free e-book “For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up” is also available. Follow her on Facebook here.