Seeing What Others Cannot Bear to Witness

fireman-100722_640There are things I’d rather not know about or see.

I’ve no need to peer inside the human body at the icky inner parts –

but I’m glad there are people willing to do that so that if someone I love requires surgery, it can happen.

I don’t want to know that serial killers and child predators exist or give over any of my thought life to what they do –

but I’m thankful there are people willing to learn their ways and understand their thinking so as to root them out and stand between them and the innocents on which they prey.

I would much rather think about helping the poor, creating works of art, and saving the planet than to ponder subjects like human trafficking, animal cruelty, domestic violence, greed, corruption, and substance abuse –

but I deeply appreciate people willing to spend their lives understanding these issues and working to combat them.

In the course of the job I do five-days a week, I encounter some of life’s ugly messiness. Working with families facing mental illness, poverty, addiction, child abuse, and emotional distress of the highest order, I see the twisting work of the evil one up close and very personal.

It’s not easy to see, impossible to forget, and challenging to come home and process. But, I’m not alone.

There are other people who see things in the course of their work that others don’t even want to know about.

Firefighters and rescue personnel who arrive at accidents or fire scenes no one should experience. Doctors, nurses, and medical staff who cope with injuries, illnesses, and losses that would keep most of us up at night. Law enforcement and armed forces personnel who see the worst of humanity. Missionaries who serve in the midst of unbelievable poverty. Ministers who are called to serve those involved in prostitution or to those reduced to their lesser selves by opiate addiction. Caregivers of all kinds who minister to people in their weakest and most vulnerable, sometimes most tragic states.

Recently, a sweet, older, Christian lady asked about my work. I didn’t have two sentences out of my mouth before she held up a hand and recited Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” NIV

I sort of looked at her blinking until she explained, “I don’t want anything of the world to fill my thoughts. I don’t understand how anyone can allow that kind of thing in and still have room in their mind for the Lord.”


I understand. The jobs I’ve mentioned are not for everyone and it is a challenge not to let the things we see occupy more of our thinking than that which is lovely and pure.

But often, what we see is true and seeing it is usually the first step to stopping it, which is noble.

So, I’ve no desire to condemn the sweet, Christian lady for not wanting to hear or see except to say I don’t believe the verse from Philippians was intended to be used in the same way a child sticks his fingers in his ears and chants, “la-la-la-la, I can’t hear you!”

It would have been sufficient to say that she couldn’t bear to hear any stories of sadness or pain. God has different callings for us all.

But He does call some of us to see what makes others turn away, and while seeing is a particular burden, it actually makes more room in our minds for God, not less.

Because, when we open our mind to the pain, the suffering and, the agonizing stories of others and when we agree to carry their burdens for even a time, then we have the very mind of Christ.

To all of those who are called to see – you have my gratitude and my prayers.

(Thinking especially of those on the front lines of the Colorado wildfires. May God bless you all.)

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    The Conversation

  1. daisymarie says:

    I think that it is nearly impossible to the those difficult jobs without a verse like Phil 4:8. It’s one of the pieces of armor I believe we’re called to put on so that we can the necessary work against evil to the glory of God.

  2. I’m not a good internet connection so I don’t want to look that passage up, but I thought it had to do with two women who were disagreeing. I thought it meant that when we’re fighting with one another we dwell on the negative and instead we should dwell on the positive. But maybe I’m wrong…because it says, “finally my brothers,” as if it’s closing out the whole book. I’ll have look that up. Because people use it all the time to justify withdrawing from the world. But Christ left us in the world. We aren’t supposed to withdraw.

    Thanks for the provocation.

    And as one who grew up under the shadow of a beloved and brilliant oldest brother who went to Vietnam and came back a paranoid schizophrenic/manic depressive, thanks for what you do.

  3. Joanne Sher says:

    Again, you’ve got me thinking – BIG time. We can’t avoid all the evil in the world – but that verse isn’t telling us to. it’s telling us not to DWELL on it. Isn’t it? Not to let it control our minds.

  4. Wow, I’ve NEVER heard Php 4:8 abused in that way! Did Jesus refuse to touch/see/hear/think about the hurting and the lost and the suffering and the sinful? Aren’t we supposed to be like Him?

    While we’re ministering to the hurting, we should remember the beauty of God’s sovereignty over suffering, and about the fact that it will all end for the believer when this age is through. We should remember the truth of God’s love, so that we can pass it along to others, and so that we can be comforted by it ourselves. Etc, etc.

    No fingers-in-ears-lalalalala!

  5. Thank you, both, for the encouragement!

  6. BTW, thanks for the dedication to the firefighters here in CO. I’m so glad they are willing to do the work!

  7. Yes, He calls some to see different things. Some just can’t handle it, but he gives a special grace to some who cannot turn away from it. Great post. 🙂 Angie