World Events & the Fragility of Goodness

It’s a Monday and depending on where you are in the world, and in what time zone you woke up, you have most likely been assaulted by different headlines around the globe.

  • In Indonesia, divers are still searching wreckage for the tragic air crash that killed all those aboard.
  • Lebanon considers a tighter lockdown as Covid-19 cases surge
  • Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders are in Russia for talks
  • Snow and ice disrupt lives in Spain
  • China denies coercive birth control methods
  • And the United States is rumbling with the fallout of an insurrection that stormed the capital building, with resultant shouts for another impeachment of the sitting president.

No matter where you are, it’s a lot. All of these call for prayer and some call for a deep soul searching lament for the state of the world. And none of these headlines include our personal tragedies and sadness, our collective displacement and loss.

But this is the world we live in, the world we engage in on a daily basis. We can wisely shut off the news for a while, we can wisely disengage for a certain number of hours in a day and week. But we can’t escape our world, nor are we called to.

It’s within this context that I have been thinking a lot about “goodness” – that word that speaks to the quality of being kind, virtuous, morally good. What does it mean to grow into goodness, to grow beyond the childlike attribute of being “good” and grow into someone whose character makes you think of true goodness.

As children, many of us hear the words “Be good” on a regular basis. “Be good for grandma!” “Be good to your brother!” It is said so often that it sometimes loses both its meaning and its power. Perhaps the importance of how we can mature into goodness is also lost along the way, lost in a world that doesn’t necessarily reward goodness beyond childhood. Instead, being savvy, smart, intellectual, and quick-tongued and quick penned are what gives us an edge in many spheres.

As I’ve thought about goodness, I came upon the story of Bulgaria’s Jews in World War 2 as relayed in a book I am reading called The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East. In this particular section, the author is telling the story of a Jewish family in Bulgaria who ended up in Palestine. Central to their survival in Bulgaria is the larger story of the Jews in Bulgaria.

A deportation order had been written that would deport all of Bulgaria’s 47,000 Jews. Unlike most of Europe, this planned deportation was never carried out. It wasn’t carried out because ordinary people and leaders found out about it. The Metropolitan and the Bishop of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church stood up for the Jews, approaching places of power and “imploring the king to demonstrate compassion by defending the right to freedom and human dignity of the Jews.” A member of parliament (Dimitar Peshev) publicly went against his government, gathering signatures and approaching the king stating that a deportation “would be be disastrous and bring ominous consequences upon the country.” Along with these, leaders of professional organizations and businesses, and ordinary people across the country stood by the Jewish population.

The deportation order was stopped temporarily in March of 1943, and then indefinitely in May. The Jewish population of the entire nation of Bulgaria did not die in gas chambers.

The author goes on to say this:

“None of this would have happened withough what the Bulgarian-French intellectual Tzvetan Todorov calls the ‘fragility of goodness’: the intricate, delicate, unforeseeable weave of human action and historical events”

Evil spreads quickly and virulently. Like a virus, it is hard to stop once it takes root. Todorov says that once it is introduced into public view, it spreads easily, whereas goodness is temporary, difficult, rare, fragile. And yet possible.

I have been thinking about this story and the idea of the fragility of goodness all week. Each person in Bulgaria who spoke up for the Jews, people who were their friends, their neighbors, their business partners, and their community members, is a chain in the link of goodness that ultimately preserved life and human dignity. While Tdorov speaks to the fragility and the “tenuous chain of events” that led to a stay in the deportation order, maybe it is not as tenuous as he supposes. Maybe what appeared tenuous and fragile was far stonger then he could imagine.

In my experience, goodness is far stronger than we know, far more powerful than it may appear. Its power is in its moral strength and its stubborn refusal to quit. That’s what I see, not only in this story, but in the small ways that goodness moves in, refusing to give up, determined that evil will not have the final word.

How can I chase goodness the way I chase beauty? When will I get to the point where I choose good without even thinking because it is so much a part of me? I don’t know. But it gives me hope when I think of ordinary people going about their lives in Bulgaria in 1943, deciding that they would speak up and out, never knowing that they would be a part of a chain called the fragility of goodness.

In all of this, I am reminded of Christ, the author of goodness, the one who strengthens the fragility of goodness making it into a force that challenges and destroys evil, for it is he who daily calls me, who daily calls all of us in this community, to chase after goodness, truth, and beauty.

Note: all quotes are from The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

A Guide to Lamenting

by Mandi Hart

Until recently, I never truly understood lamenting. This invitation to honesty is, in fact, God’s gift to us, and it reminds us that we are human. It is a beautiful way to express our suffering, cry for help or at injustice and lean into trusting God. Most often, as humans, we try to run away from our pain. “It’s much better to avoid my pain, that’s my natural tendency,” remarked a friend the other day.

We know that there is a book in the Bible called Lamentations, and over a third of the Psalms are laments. Consider that lamenting is a verbal expression of our regret, disappointment, sadness or grief. It’s a way of mourning and expressing sorrow. But, more than that, lamenting gives us the language for living between the poles of hard life or suffering and trusting in God.

Lamenting is us coming to a place of brutal honesty. We don’t pray what we think we should say, but at that moment, we remove the outer layers and speak what we honestly feel. For some, that isn’t easy. But try it out. It might set you on a journey of freedom and healing.

We need the courage to lament. Why do I say that? Well, many of us don’t like being honest about our pain or express the injustices we see in our lives or that of our community. We cover it up because we have the fear of being exposed or making a mistake. We remain hidden and don’t express what we truly feel or want to say.

Lamenting is like a tightrope, but it can also be a lifeline. For too often, we deny our pain or worse, get stuck in that place of sorrow.

I once heard a story of a woman who, on her wedding day, found out that her husband died on his way to the church. Overcome with grief; this woman remained in her wedding dress in her house, decorated for the festive day. She never, ever really lived. Now, I can’t verify this story, but it illustrates how unresolved grief can lock us in. If we never lament or grieve well, we cannot mend well.

In the words of Richard Rohr, “If you do not transform your pain, you will transmit it.” When we lament, we can transform our pain and heal. Lamenting has the potential to carry us through this time of global suffering and uncertainty.


The outline of a Lament

Generally, a lament takes a form. This is helpful to shape our prayers when we cry out to God is this way. I’m not at an expert in this and am learning along with you, but I have found the following guide helpful:

1. Turn to God. Here, you turn to God. You can remember His faithfulness in the past.

2. Bring your protest. At this point, you bring your groaning or complaint to God. Pain is pain, and it is here that you express it, without pretense. You are raw and honest. You tell God what you are angry about – for yourself, your family, community or globally. Don’t hold back.

3. Ask boldly for help. After you’ve shared the deep groaning of your heart, you begin to petition. You ask God for help. Hebrews 4:16 urges us to do so with words: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

4. Choose to trust. After you’ve asked God for help, you return to praise and that place of trusting Him to act, comfort, restore or bring peace.

Just this morning, I led a prayer meeting via Zoom (as we do these days) and spent 30 minutes lamenting as a group. It was one of the most intense prayer times I’ve had recently. One man remarked that he is learning that prayer doesn’t have to be boring. It was a fresh experience and so transparently real.

Other ways to express what’s going on deep inside

Firstly, spend time reading the Psalms. Examples of laments are in Psalm 10, 13, 22, 25, 60,73, 77, 79, 80 and 90. There are many more, but this is a start. Familiarize yourself with the Psalmist’s honest expressions and ways of lamenting. Start speaking out your own laments.

Secondly, you can lament through journaling. Try writing out your cries to God.

Thirdly, lament through tears and groans. Another way of saying it could be: feel your feelings and turn them to prayer.

Fourth, create a song around lamenting. Sing your prayers or give expression through your music.

Fifth, creativity is there for you to embrace. Consider doing a piece of artwork to express your lament or if you’re wired like me, go for a run and pray on the move.

We do not find growth in comfort. It comes when we feel pain, hardship, endure to the end, push and heal. Growth comes in the least likely of places. My prayer for you today is this:

May you find the courage to lament.

May you find healing in expressing your deepest sorrows.

And may you know the grace of the invitation to honesty today and always. 


Mandi Hart is the author of Parenting with Courage, along with her latest release, Courage in the Fire: Overcoming a fear-driven life. Mandi and her husband led All Nations Cape Town (a missions and church planting organisation) for several years. She is a certified counsellor and coach who speaks weekly on the radio on courageous living and fearless parenting. She carries the nations in her heart and is involved in the 24/7 prayer movement. She currently lives in Stellenbosch, South Africa, where she is involved in outreach and the mentoring and raising of leaders. Mandi loves running the trails amongst the vineyards and enjoys a good cup of coffee with her Scottish Terriers nearby. You can find her online at

Amazing Grace & a Prayer for the Human Family

Sunset over Cairo – 2011
Photo credit – Stefanie Sevim Gardner

I’m sitting at my desk in our guest bedroom when the bells from the church across the street begin to ring. They began at eight in the morning and they end at ten at night, giving us a full ten hours without being reminded of the time.

This is new for me. While hearing the call to prayer was a sound embedded into my childhood, I rarely heard church bells. These church bells also tend to peel out the tune of “God Bless America” a bit too often for my liking.

But this morning, as though sensing my despair, I heard the sound of “Amazing Grace.”

Amazing Grace – that hymn sung by believers and non-believers with its haunting melody and stunning truth.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind but now I see

John Newton

Most of us know the history of this song. John Newton’s past as a slave trader, his conversion, his stepping into grace and writing a song. But nothing is quite as simple as the short histories that we read, In fact, it took him three more slave trading voyages before he’d had enough. It took him even longer, 34 years longer, to write a “blazing pamphlet” called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade” – a publication used by John Wilberforce, a member of British Parliament, to put forward a bill to abolish the slave trade. Newton died six months after the bill was passed in 1807.

I relate with this history. We often take baby steps along our journey toward understanding better what it is to love our world and seek justice as Jesus would, only to look back in stunned disbelief that it took us so long. We look back at our excuses and they seem so pitiful.

And yet – Grace.

Most of us at A Life Overseas are deeply involved in organizations, projects, and with people around the world where injustice is a daily reality. I would submit that it is easier to face injustice in countries and places that we don’t legally belong to. We can see these and have an outsider’s view even if they are a daily part of our work. Turn the camera on our passport countries and suddenly it gets personal.

At least, that is how it’s been for me.

If you , like me, are mourning and longing for a better world; if you, like me are praying for your passport country, wherever it is, and the injustices you see there; if you, like me are longing to do more, longing to fight injustice wherever you see it, feeling guilty about not doing enough yet completely overwhelmed with all that life has brought you in the past weeks – displacement, death, sickness, loss of friendships, goodbyes, uncertainty, inability to plan for the future – I offer you this prayer today.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us
through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole
human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which
infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;
unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and
confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in
your good time, all nations and races may serve you in
harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ
our Lord…..

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Book of Common Prayer – Prayer for the Human Family and Prayer for Social Justice

In closing, may you soak in these words from Eugene Cho:

Chaos ensues. Anxiety rises. Lament is in the air. Yet, Christ is our anchor. Hold tight. Be steadfast. Resist the empire. Be compassionate. Pursue justice. Stand with the oppressed. Fight for the vulnerable. Seek God’s Kingdom. And keep pointing people to Jesus.

Amen. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

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