As you sit around your table lavishly laden with indulgent food this Christmas, just think of those poor, starving children in Africa.
Or words/images to that effect. Every year.
I’ve been really aware of memes and sentiments doing the rounds this Christmas – essentially saying hey, someone somewhere is worse off than you…so suck it up.
It can be our go-to response when we hear about things like poverty, illness, trafficking. People are going through things we can’t even imagine, so what have we to complain about?
The thing is, this kind of thinking doesn’t actually lead anywhere good. It may make us feel guilt – or maybe pity – but it’s paralysing.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I have worked in the charity sector for years and my biggest passion is seeing the worth of every human upheld and protected. I’ve stared suffering of the weightiest kind in the face, and I feel a profound and daily sense of responsibility to use my privilege and tools to work towards eradicating it.
However, if I spend my time weighing up or comparing suffering and difficulty, I can end up freezing or trying to bury my head in the sand. How do I know where to invest my energy? Who ‘deserves’ it more? And why are things so easy for me? (Is my comeuppance on its way? How dare I rest or enjoy life when others can’t?)
These are questions I have battled with a lot. I’ve spoken to many wise people, and I still don’t have answers for them. But something that I heard John Lennox, an academic and author, say years ago after the tsunami had hit Asia has stuck with me:
God doesn’t care any more or any less about the tsunami in your life than he does about the one in Asia.
Suffering is not relative. It all matters.
This is true as we relate to our friends and neighbours, too. As you know, my pregnancy has been scary and complicated. When I am chatting to other pregnant people, some will talk about a difficulty they are having but then book-end it by saying something along the lines of it not being as bad as what I’ve gone through.
The thing is, it’s not a competition. Their suffering matters no more and no less than mine. Acknowledging this is a much surer foundation for conversations and relationships.
Christmas can be a hard time of year for a lot of people. Let yourself off the hook. Say it out loud. It’s okay. What you are going through matters. You don’t need to bench-mark it. It’s enough that you matter.
Christmas is also a time of giving. Let’s use what we have to help others – not from crash and burn motivators like guilt or pity, but because just as our stories matter just as much as each other’s, so does our worth (“for the slave is our brother”): and our common worth should be upheld.