It's human nature to focus inward, especially during lean times.
We do it as individuals, as families and as a nation. Let the world take care of itself for a while, we say.
Enough already with endless global crises and foreign wars. Let us have a quiet Christmas for a change.
In the personal and spiritual realms, it's easier to look away when people are in crisis. I'm an expert at being (or pretending to be) clueless about the needs of folks all around me. You can't help everybody, right?
“I think one human tendency resulting from the fall of man is to protect oneself from being consumed by the needs of others,” says a missionary serving in one of the poorest, most violent and least-evangelized countries of Central Asia.
When things get tough, she asks, “Does God give me a ‘Holy Bible for Chaotic Times' that directs me to give only to family and treat people the best they should reasonably expect me to under the circumstances?
“Or can he still be telling me, ‘Give to everyone who asks of you'?”
She avoided these uncomfortable questions more easily in the United States. In the Muslim nation where she works, the poor are everywhere. Giving alms is expected, but the socially acceptable gift is a tiny amount. If you give more, you will be inundated with constant pleas for help.
All very reasonable — until someone comes to you needing more.
Such a one came to her last year: a desperately poor grandmother pleading for help to care for her orphaned grandchildren. The missionary did what she could and wondered guiltily during a visit home to the United States if the old woman and her grandchildren survived an especially hard winter.
The missionary returned to Central Asia this year. The old woman found her again, with the same plea for help. The uncomfortable questions within returned.
“If I had been used all of my life, yet blessed with children and grandchildren, and yet have their orphaned care fall upon my bent back and their little bodies draw close against my thin, bony frame and into my tattered [cloak], and if I saw their dark eyes in smudged faces looking wearily into my emptiness, and if I knew there was a person with great resources living on a certain street in a courtyard behind a certain gate, might I hope that person would charitably give me more than a [five-cent] coin?
“And if I, standing inside the courtyard gate, knew that the Father loved this beggar woman since eternity and accomplished salvation for her and her loved ones and longed to enfold her in his love this very moment, what might the love of Christ do through me?”
This same beggar woman is standing at your gate and knocking at your door. Not literally, perhaps, but she is there. Whole nations and peoples are there, pleading not just for food but for the Bread of life, the Word of God made flesh.
“What child is this?” they are asking. “Could he give us hope, too?”
Yes, it's easier to ignore the insistent knocking, to pretend they aren't there. But when that missionary in Central Asia feels overwhelmed, she turns to Jesus.
“I consider him and think, ‘Jesus, you love me and I love you. That's all I know for sure.' Then he seems to put his arms around my shoulders, smile and keep walking.”
Erich Bridges is global correspondent for the International Mission Board.