I was overloaded and overwhelmed. I was over extended, and exhausted. I had to take a rest and focus on the two things God has covenantally placed in my hands and upon my heart: my ministry and my son. So I let my daily posts go. I let the ground lie fallow. It was not easy either. I would get to the point that I was ready to go to bed, run through my “to do” list in my head, and feel anxiety that I had not composed a post for my blog. Even though I had agreed to abstain until things came back into alignment, I still felt this responsibility. It gnawed at me every day. Then I started to see this bucket of ice water challenge flood the internet. I admit that I do not really get it. I am not sure how this really helps people with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Perhaps it is really a PR campaign, but it led me to this thought:
All these buckets being poured upon people, providing some level of amusement even as they try to call people to accountability and action, left me feeling sad. While ALS is a horrific disease that perpetuates suffering at unspeakable levels, I found myself wishing we spent this much time and energy with the people who suffer with ALS. We are pouring out water, a precious commodity elsewhere in the world, when Christ calls us to pour out ourselves. I am all for increasing public awareness. I think that we should challenge one another to do more. I even appreciate all those I saw taking part in this activity, but I had to refrain. I watched it become a platform for comedy in some instances, and a snide game of one-upmanship in others. ALS isn’t a game. It isn’t an opportunity to create home videos. It is a life-changing atrocity of the human experience that deprives persons of their health and even their lives, not to mention their dignity. This slow, progressive degeneration of the nervous system creates unimaginable hardship, and threatens physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. I started to wonder if the buckets were an easy way to stay at a safe distance. It acknowledges without making us reach out and touch a person actually affected. It shows sympathy without building relationships that grow empathy. In both cases, we are called to the latter.
Christ came and got up close and personal with those who suffered illnesses the likes of which made society drive them from its midst. It relegated these people to a status of unclean and made them religiously unworthy. We pour out water on ourselves, water: that rich sacred symbol and means of God conveying grace in baptism. It is the sacramental cleansing of our guilt and bestowing in its place the life-long presence of the Holy Spirit. I yearn to see us use our time and effort to go deeper, grow closer with one another. Not just symbolic gestures or the donation of money, but the sacrifice of time and vulnerability to invest in someone who will die of this disease sooner than we want to admit. I will never forget watching someone die of ALS when I was doing my chaplaincy in a local hospital. It has left an indelible impression upon me, and it makes me hold to my promise never to shy away from the sick. It makes me push beyond the easy gestures, and well into the realm of personal discomfort for the sake of the Kingdom. The path that Christ walks before us is one that traverses that territory regularly, even more than we want to admit. Are we willing to follow? Are we willing to go without the comforts, such as water, in order to give the thirsty something to drink? Are we willing to sit at the bedside of the sick and the dying, even if we risk our health?
I am not angry or disgruntled at those who took part in the bucket challenge. I suppose, more than anything, that I am challenging all of us to do more in a more personal way. I know that I can and need to do more. The suffering cannot be totally removed, but all suffering is made more tolerable when those who endure it can see and feel that they are not alone, unloved, and forsaken. Our duty as disciples of the Risen Christ is to be that visible presence, that tangible reminder of God’s love. We love those no one else seeks to love, and are present with those that have been cast aside out of hatred, fear, or indifference. So, if you took part in the ice water bucket challenge for ALS, then I hope it reminds you of your baptism, and fuels your desire to serve in Christ’s name. You have a lot of love within you, a lot of love to give, and there are multitudes of people who need it, and welcome it. Go forth, and love boldly!