I was half a world away, in my first year of high school, when the 1989 San Francisco earthquake hit. I remember watching television footage of chunks of the Bay Bridge collapsing on the decks below it, cars skidding like skittles.
I had no idea, then, that twenty five years later I would find myself living in shaking distance of the San Andreas Fault, and every time I drive across one of the long bridges spanning the San Francisco Bay, I wonder “will this be the day? The day of the Big One? Will my car be in the footage of this bridge crumpling into the sea?”
I try not to tell my Mom these things. She worries enough already.
And so it was, on Saturday morning, that I was making my way across one of those long bridges, imagining earthquakes and my imminent demise, when I heard the news of the earthquake which devastated Nepal. 7.9 on the Richter Scale. Over 4000 lives lost already, and tens of thousands more crushed physically, emotionally, and financially: their world literally shaken.
I have friends who have taught me to love Nepal. My sweet friend Katie worked there for some years in a home where children rescued from sex trafficking were being loved into wholeness. We have other friends (whose names I can’t share) working at a missions hospital. I savor their newsletters. I pray for them, hoping in some way to partner with them in the work they are doing there.
I have prayed for Nepal many times, but this week-with my social media flooded with prompts to #PrayForNepal-I’m feeling stuck, and not sure how to pray.
My first instinct is to reach for the soul-notes I learned in the Church of England: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. But there’s something about that prayer that sticks right now: as if God were engaged in twisting the world’s arms behind our backs until we, in our pain, cry “uncle”.
This is the sticking point: the deep feeling that I need to pray, but the deep disquiet I feel that God could have prevented this, could have stopped this. Believing that God is mighty enough to help half way across the world necessarily means I also believe Him mighty enough to have made things go differently.
I just finished reading a treasure of a book: Karen Dabaghian’s newly released Travelogue of the Interior. In it, she chronicles a journey God took her through the Psalms – a year spent marinating in, and learning to pray and write poetry in response to, God in the Psalms. The most arresting part of the book to me was her chapter on lament, which she describes this way:
“Lament… is the act of pouring out in thoughtfully crafted, brutally honest speech all the accusatory, self-serving, pain-drenched thoughts and emotions that fester in the deepest recesses of my soul when God doesn’t come through for me in the way I believe He is supposed to…. Lament is casting our full selves on the fathomless mercy of God, because only His mercy is big enough to bear witness to our bitter accusations and still let us live.”
So, this morning instead of praying for Nepal, I tried lamenting. Asking God WHY he let this happen and WHAT was he thinking and WHERE was he? My fingers skimmed through my bible, finding the passage in Luke 13 where Jesus talks about what conclusions could be drawn from a tragedy in his day when a tower in Siloam fell and killed many, too. I hunted for the verse somewhere which talks about God shaking the earth.
But at some point my fingers stilled and my breathing got slower, and I found myself in 1 John 1:5, and the reminder that God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all. No hint of caprice, no mean streak, no schadenfreude.
I found no answers to why this all happened, but I felt God gently point out that I’d come to prayer with no small amount of resentment: as if I cared more about those suffering than He does, as if I had purer motives than He, as if I had to try and persuade Him to do good for a change.
Instead of assuming that God is petulant and reluctant to bless, I needed a reminder that God is more than the giver of blessings, He is the Gift himself. And so, once again I’m on my knees asking that He would make it better, but… so much more importantly… that He would MAKE IT COUNT. That His presence would be near. That even though we don’t know the WHY, we know He is WITH.
My prayers feel puny, and my faith is small. Honestly, it felt more useful to send a donation to the missions hospital where my friends serve since I knew the money would at least be of practical help (you can donate too: here).
But I need to pray, too, reminding myself that I cannot outdo God in compassion or mercy. In the wake of this devastation, I know this much is true: He cares.
And so I pray.