Flames are licking all around us, aren’t they? All the time. Saint Peter describes our life here on this earth as a “fiery ordeal” (1 Peter 4:12). Tragedies and heartache and pressures and illnesses and irritations grand and small show up indiscriminately, and they do not limit themselves to one season.
I know that in comparison to most, my own life has not been so bad. I am not a refugee. I am not living in the middle of a drought-filled land, praying that my child will survive another day. My daily reality is not set in a war zone (well, at least not one that can be seen). I am not living on the streets. I have a roof over my head. I have running water that will not make me ill. When I put my feet on the floor after a night’s sleep, there is carpet underneath them. I am a resident of the United States and living a life of luxury in comparison to 90 percent of the human population. I’m very aware of all this.
But such facts, though true and humbling, don’t help me most of the time. Too often they serve only to shame me and keep me from being present to the sorrow in my life that threatens to swallow up everything, like a forest fire that looms near. Too near. Yes, I want to be aware of others in the world. I do want to grow in compassion, but that will require me to feel my own pain, to not run from it through comparisons that only serve to diminish my own hard. When I do not have compassion for myself in my own trials, my compassion for others also goes down—both for those whose sorrows I have known in part and those whose sorrows I have not. Besides, the grace of God is not present in my comparisons. It is here for me in my moment. If I run from my reality, I also run from the presence of God.
So my heart scans the horizon in the quiet of the morning when the faint smell of smoke rises, and I ask, “Where are You, God?”
And the answer comes from deep within. “I’m right here.”