Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us–Hebrews 12:1
Lately I find myself tempted by discouragement. The heated election-year rhetoric reminds me of my frustration with both sides of the political divide. The news is full of disasters. The drought goes on. I get tired, and my failures in work and in neighbor-love weigh heavy on my mind. I am sometimes tempted to despair, to think that people just don’t live well on the earth or with each other and our best efforts don’t help all that much.
It’s at times like these that I need to remember the cloud of witnesses, the people whose lives have testified that we really are capable of good work and Christian love, and that God’s grace completes our partial and broken efforts.
Sometimes I turn to the Bible to be reminded of these witnesses: Moses who led his people out of slavery, and also out of a kind of security, through the dangers of the desert and into freedom; the prophets who spoke the word God had given them in the midst of a society that didn’t want to hear; the apostles who gave freely of the material and spiritual gifts that they had freely received…
Sometimes I turn to history, to John Woolman, Henry Thoreau, Sojourner Truth, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day… people who dared to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God in the midst of an earthly kingdom that tried to claim their allegiance, people who spoke the word and did the work and tried to love their neighbors as themselves.
Sometimes I think of people I have known: my great-grandparents, subsistence farmers who worked hard and with joy and always had enough to share, however hard the season had been; my friends who work with troubled kids, with immigrants, with refugees, with those in prison, helping them to become the people God calls them to be; those who have offered me hospitality, instruction and examples.
Thinking of them, I am freed from my narrow perspective, my disappointments and my fears. I have the strength to run the next bit of my race. I try again to live as a witness to God’s truth.