Haiti is hard to get out of our minds these days, which is as it should be.
News outlets still have stories from the earthquake and its aftermath at the top of their web pages. Telethons have raised millions. Our congregation, like thousands of others across the world, is sending money for immediate and long-term disaster relief, and assembling hygiene kits for survivors who are still homeless or marginally housed.
Why is it that we can’t stop thinking about Haiti? Sure, it’s partly because its stories remain so present in the news. But I think it’s more than that. We could turn off the news, stop reading the stories. Those stories, though, keep drawing us in because we care. But why do we care so much?
Maybe we care because we can in some small way imagine ourselves in the place of a mother who is in the hospital but doesn’t know what has happened to her children. We ache for the man who is waiting for medical care to spare his life or his limb. We worry about the economy and structure and future of an already desperately poor place.
Haiti is on our minds, as it should be.
In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in the city of Corinth (in ancient Greece), he wasn’t happy with the behavior of church members. They were argumentative, divisive, pushy, petty. He was embarrassed that they gave places of honor to the wealthy. He was irked that their worship services were raucous expressions of self-ism. So he wrote to tell them to stop acting up, and to encourage them to do better. In the 13th chapter, he takes a time out to include a love poem. Not, of course, in the romantic sense, but a poem about mutual love and the give and take of God-like affection.
Actually, affection may be just the wrong word. There’s really nothing in there about affection. The encouragement is not to feel more affectionate, but to understand what love is and then act on it. Paul tells those folks that the things they are worried about are nothing, without love. They can have and use all the exciting spiritual gifts, but love is the thing that pulls everything else together, that makes everything else work. And though he doesn’t give us a definition, he tells us what love looks like. Love is not boastful or selfish, but thinks of the other. Love doesn’t just seek its own way; it seeks the way that is beneficial to the other. If they would move toward the others around them, instead of inward, then these problems would be more manageable.
Love leads us into thinking about others, caring about others, wanting to make things better for others. Love is a movement of the heart.
My husband Jerry and I attended a women’s college basketball game a couple of weeks ago when a player on the opposing team was hurt. She lay on the floor for what seemed like a long time, then finally sat up and was helped off the floor by the trainer and assistant. It was worrisome. As the crowd applauded her, a child of about 3 years sitting behind us asked her father, “Where’s her mom?” She wanted the player to have the comforting presence of a parent with her, and voiced what we were all thinking in one way or another, hoping that she could be cared for by the people who love her most.
Love, real love, is implanted in our souls by God. When we see someone else hurting, our hearts go out to them. It’s natural. A three-year-old’s heart breaks for an injured person. As we grow older, we realize that more is required than empathy. We move beyond the initial reaction of wishing them well, to doing something about it. That is why so many have done so much in Haiti. Our hearts ache for the Haitian people, and we move toward them.
Even if you are unable to do anything about Haiti, your heart response toward their plight can move you toward your neighbor at home, can make you look more charitably on their shortcomings, can help you imagine what support you can give with your words, your prayers, your actions, your love. When we say another’s hurt moves us to act, this is exactly what we mean.