Beautiful World, Where Are You?

Hi Everyone! It’s been a long while since I’ve written anything here, and there has been good reason for it. I won’t get into all of that now, but I did want to share some of the reflections that have been on my heart lately.

To that end, though I haven’t read it yet, the title of a book by Sally Rooney recently caught my eye: Beautiful World, Where Are You? by Sally Rooney. It’s a question I’ve been wondering a lot myself lately, for a variety of reasons.

On a micro level, there is much I am grateful for, and I find it helpful (and necessary) to make it a regular practice to give thanks and take notice of the good in my life. I love hearing the birds chirp and seeing flowers bloom this time of year. I’m grateful for my husband’s patience and support, that I have a dishwasher, and can do laundry at home. I’m thankful for a good night’s sleep when I get it and that my kids are healthy and safe. I’m mindful that there are many people who do not have these same experiences.

Yet there have been plenty of days in the past several months when I have felt discouraged and saddened as I’ve looked at the world around me. I’ve found myself worrying about the world our kids will live in if we don’t start taking care of creation more intentionally. I’ve been grieving various transitions and the numerous layers and emotions involved with them.

But most of all, I think, I have struggled with the ways that hatred, rudeness, disrespect, and insensitivity have become acceptable—and at times even applauded—in our public discourse and interactions with people near and far. To me, it is unacceptable and it seems we could do so much better.

In college, my student teaching assignment was in a tenth grade American History classroom. Over the years, I have also read many historical fiction books set in the time of slavery, World War I, and World War II. So I realize that there has hardly been a time in our nation’s, much less the world’s history, when all has been well.

Even still, it’s difficult for me to wrap my mind around the horrific ways people were treated during these times, the way power was misused and abused, and the way certain groups of people were dehumanized. It’s difficult for me to think that anyone could look back on these times and not be appalled. Yet the truth is that these sorts of things are still happening today, and that is the thing I have been struggling to make sense of most.

To some extent, I tell myself I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve long known people can be unkind, even cruel to one another, often due to an underlying sense of insecurity or greed or a desire to assert more power for oneself. My earliest memory of this realization was in fifth grade, when someone I considered a close friend used her powers of influence and popularity to convince the other kids in our class to not play with me at recess. It was a confusing and humiliating time, and to get through the year, I spent most of my lunch hours in my classroom, putting up bulletin boards for my teacher.

Thankfully, the year passed and I got through it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last time I succumbed to a desire to be liked and embraced by those who seemed to have more confidence and physical beauty than I had. I regret the amount of time I put into relationships that were not mutually edifying.

Thankfully though, I did learn from these experiences. In particular, I learned to not shake off my intuition when I sensed someone was using their charms to get their own way or was putting self before others or appeared one way on the surface but lacked a sense of authenticity deeper down.

One of the things I have come to mourn as an adult is that adults treat others in ways that we teach our kids in school not to. In fact, I often think what a different world it would be if we adults followed the same code of conduct that our schools instill in our kids: Respect, Honesty, Kindness, Responsibility and Fairness. They don’t always get it right, but it’s important to name these values as common ground.

Of course, I know we’re all human, which means that we all fail at times, both in what we do and what we don’t do. Nonetheless, I’ve always had a certain optimism that the common good would win out. These days, I’ve been less sure. Which is what makes me question, Beautiful world, where are you?

In order to not lose hope in these times, I try to remember to take some deep breaths; to consider another person’s point of view and look for the common ground, even when it’s hard to do so; to focus on spreading love and kindness, and, as a friend of mine put it, to chose to believe there is good in the world.

I know that those who view the world differently than I do care about the future of our world and the vitality of our community, but that their definitions of what that looks like are different than mine. I know they have reasons for what they believe is right and worthy of our investment. Yet whenever those views are blinded by privilege or a desire to maintain power or rudeness, that is when I have a hard time appreciating and accepting those views.

Whenever a certain opinion or position results in some other group being made to feel less by others, I can’t help but wonder where the Greatest Commandment fits in. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37). Or the words from the prophet Micah, “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” (6:8).

As I’ve tried to grapple with things, as well as to keep even my own opinions in check, I’ve started to ask myself: What is the fruit of a particular viewpoint? Who is benefiting from it? Is what I am doing and saying helping to expand other’s view of the world, themselves, and God’s love? Am I adding love to the world or diminishing it?

It’s also why I often find myself praying for leaders who put service before self, who are committed to listening more than they value hearing themselves speak, who identify areas of growth and seek clarification not to tear things apart but in order to make things better. I am grateful for the leaders in our community and beyond who are already doing this, and I pray for more and more of them as we continue to shape our shared future.

It’s not easy, doing this work. But I’ve found it essential in order to not lose hope. And what I keep being reminded of as I do, is the truth that though it is often hard to see, beauty and good and kindness are still present. Compassion, empathy, and integrity are not lost. There is still good in the world.

Lately I’ve seen glimpses of the world I long for in the way my son’s soccer teammates related to one another; in the uninhibited joy of my kids when they do something that makes their heart sing and the enthusiasm with which our dogs greet neighbors and friends; in the camp counselors who welcomed my oldest to camp and shared the boundless love of Jesus with her throughout the week; in the questions of a five-year old as he explored his grandfather’s garden and his slow smile when he tasted a rootbeer float for the first time; in the continued work of the staff and volunteers of various community organizations focused on making sure all people have access to safe and affordable housing, food security, and gainful employment.

For all these reasons, though I’ve long since let go of wondering, why can’t we all get along? I will not give up searching for what is good, right, and beautiful, and I hope that you too will join me in seeking, taking notice of, and giving thanks for it.