Well, you've finally arrived, even here in Mississippi. I like the idea of cold weather, just not the actuality. I love the idea of snow and blustery snowball fights and icicles hanging from the eaves. Unfortunately, that doesn't really happen around here. No snow; no crisp, glittery mornings; no brittle, clear, frosty nights. Just cold. And rain. And more cold.
I know Northerners think we're hilarious. Anything above freezing is no big deal in the North. But here in the South, 50 degrees Fahrenheit is about where we start whimpering, and when it gets below freezing--especially if it's rainy--we feel it in our bones. We've got thin blood; we're just not built for cold weather.
I don't love wearing bulky coats, even though a trenchcoat with a pair of Chucks always makes me feel a little like the dashing Tenth Doctor. We are notorious in our house for losing mittens, scarves, hats, etc. We have to bundle up the baby, take her outside, then strip off her coat so that we can actually snap her in her carseat. Winter apparel, especially when there's no snow, feels like more trouble than it's worth.
I'll tell you what else I don't like about you, wintry weather. It's hard to forget the poor when it gets cold outside. Each night, sitting around our table, eating warm food with people I love, I have a hard time not feeling guilty about those that don't have a table, or warm food, or a family. I am keenly aware, as I tuck my babies into their snuggly, safe beds, that there are mamas out there who aren't able to provide that safety and warmth for their babies.
It's easier during warm weather to forget these hard things. To forget that there are still those that are thirsty, overheated, and dangerously unprotected from the elements in summer. Hot weather can be just as deadly as cold weather, but somehow it's easier to ignore the plight that others face, when it's hot outside. In summer, there's a certain solidarity where we all melt, and pant, and wilt away in the heat. In winter, when my loved ones are safe within our home's walls, I feel the exclusion of it all--the fact that there are "haves," and there are "have-nots." Summer feels like camaraderie, like warmth, like light. Winter feels like alienation, like a chill that won't go away, like darkness.
So I don't like you, cold weather. I want to enjoy God's good gifts, to be grateful for what God has provided. But there's something about cold weather that makes that hard to do. And because of my selfishness, wintry weather doesn't necessarily make me more generous, more prayerful, or more active to help those in need. It just makes me feel guiltier. In a season which is full of busyness and family and travel and so many things--good and bad--to be praying about, I selfishly want to avoid feelings that I can't control, can't sculpt, can't hang lights on and make pretty.
I guess I can't use a cold front as a scapegoat any longer. Really, I should be addressing God. And addressing the poor. But how? How does one thank God for all that I have and then cry out in anger for those who don't, all in the same breath? How does one see the inherent humanity in those outside? How does one not reduce the poor to a monolithic, faceless group of people that is so easy to dismiss?
Well, God, I guess I'll look to your Word and ask these questions. So I cry out to you, "How long?" I join the Psalmist in asking for justice and your mercy on your people (Psa. 79:5).
I ask for your shalom to come--which necessitates your justice--and I join with the prophet Jeremiah in speaking your words that we, God's people, must seek the good of our cities (Jer. 29:7).
Along with the tax collector, I beg for your mercy on me, a sinner (Lk. 18:13), and ask you to change my heart, to make me see with your eyes, to break my heart for those in any type of need. I join with Jesus as he looked out over Jerusalem and wept at the misery of his people (Lk. 19:41).
As a drowning person among other drowning people, I ask that you bring me forward in conviction, O Lord, to do your will. To join you in making things right. I cast my guilt away as a scheme of the devil, and desire only to serve you, Lord. I listen to the pangs of hunger that others are feeling, I shiver in the cold that others must constantly live with, and I weep with the loneliness that image-bearers feel, especially during the cold and the holidays.
And what can I say to you, the hungry, the cold, the homeless, the destitute and the grieving? I will say, I see you. I see your needs, and I want to help meet them. But I also see your imago dei--your status as deserving of respect and dignity because God made you. I see your uniqueness--I will not yield to easy stereotypes nor blame-shifting which abdicates me of all responsibility in your plight. I see you, and I will not look away in shame for either of us.
And to my family and fellow believers, I say, let us join together in doing God's work. We must pray, and then listen, and then act. We will do good, not to get rid of uncomfortable realizations and guilt, but to be in solidarity with fellow human beings. We will do good, not in a position of power, but recognizing our own desperate, needy state. We will do good because we realize that without God we have nothing and can do nothing. We will do good because God has given us resources to grow his kingdom, and "there, but for the grace of God, go we." Because we recognize that what separates us from those outside in the cold has nothing to do with us or our supposed goodness. And we recognize our frailty, and even that sometimes, we too, are lonely, even in our warm, glowing homes.
The question we must ask ourselves is not, "Will we invite the sojourner, the stranger, and the needy to our dinner table?" The proper question is "How? How do you want us to serve, God?" Some of us are called to host international students, or others without family nearby. Some of us are called to scale back our food budget, so as to be able to give more to our churches and worthy charities. Some of us are called to foster or adopt. Some of us are called to serve at soup kitchens, children's homes, or homeless shelters. There are as many ways to serve as there are believers to do the serving, if only we'll listen to God's call. Some of us are called to bring people to our table and some to bring the table to those in need, but all are asked to pray. We all must sit with the painful reality that he sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45), especially when it's freezing rain. We all must confront the truth that some have shelter from those cold rains, but others do not. We all must be willing--even as we embrace our families and thank God for all he has done for us--to lament the injustices of the world and continue to ask God to use us to love our fellow humans.
Shivering, but grateful,
A Fellow Human Being.