In my communication research class last week, the professor asked us, “What is some knowledge you have gained that was painful when it came to your awareness?”
Throughout the past year, I have learned how little is in my control. Of course this has always been true, but I have especially experienced this recently. We have all seen and experienced how overwhelming it is when our circumstances dictate the way we can live our lives — when we are told to stay home instead of hug our loved ones or when we are told to put our plans on the backburner while our surroundings work themselves out. Despite this particular type of hardship — feeling helpless and out of control — the most heartbreaking occurrences I have witnessed are the ones perpetrated by a person’s own free will and decision-making.
Similarly to countless others, I was sick to my stomach on Jan. 6 when we witnessed hundreds of people storming our Capitol, putting other people’s lives in danger and causing tremendous damage to individuals and monuments. I shuddered as I saw a group waving a flag that read “Jesus Saves” while simultaneously displaying the nooses they had created. How did we get to this point? How did we get to the point where these two ideas — religion and explicit hatred — were so tightly intertwined? How did we get to the point where our own president encouraged acts of such harm?
Upon witnessing these events, I wanted to be angry, and I wanted to remain angry. These people must be completely selfish and ignorant and malicious, I thought to myself. They caused so much pain to so many. Since I am a slow learner, it took me several days to stop fuming and take a step back: How can we continue to walk the same earth as this “other” group? How can we as a human race move towards forgiveness and healing and true progress? Perhaps the most sobering and noble reason I can think of is that, just like our enemy can cause us such pain, we too have the capacity to do the same. We can cause pain to others as surely as we can feel it. This is power, and we must use it well and with virtue.
To our core, we have a lot more in common than we may think, and as painful as it is to confront and realize, there is a lot of God in the worst of us and a lot of the devil in the best of us. This truth I am beginning to understand is one that has been particularly challenging and uncomfortable to confront.
God gave us this free will: He created us with such love and care but ultimately left us to our own choices — blunders, bruises and all. When I was born, God knew that he loved me, but he also knew he was giving me, with my sinful inclinations, the power to either bless the world or curse the world. That is something we all have in common.
As we continue to walk the earth, we gain more and more knowledge — some by choice and some by force. We may experience things that challenge us to regroup, adapt, refine and progress. Oftentimes, however, this process of gaining knowledge is not so linear and inspiring but instead painful. 2021 thus far marks a year of continued and consistent knowledge-learned — knowledge that is brutal but completely necessary to have: Our world is broken; our neighbors are broken; our leaders are broken; we are broken. But may we never cease striving to see God in the stranger, the broken or the other, for we, too, are each of those from time to time.