The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah: In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, 2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. 3 They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1:1-4)
We are bombarded with painful news everyday — wars, famines, joblessness, broken marriages, disease, dysfunctional families, and more. We get to choose to move toward or away from the suffering around us. However, by nature we tend to try to protect and insulate us from the suffering, because it’s just too hard to face head on. We surround ourselves with walls, barriers, instinctual defense mechanisms to keep ourselves from being dragged down emotionally by the pain we see others going through.
Nehemiah’s story begins in a safe, comfortable palace guarded by high walls and guards. He resides in the Citadel of Susa, the grand imperial residence of the Persian King. Soon enough this man will make the heroic, self-sacrificial move toward restoring the broken down walls of Jerusalem. But what’s remarkable about this man is not just that he moves toward the brokenness. What’s remarkable is what he left behind, and that the news of a devastated city over 1,000 miles away in a far off land was able to penetrate his heart while living in the insulated, luxurious confines of the Citadel.
The more warm, comfortable and safe our current situation is, the harder it is to break free and move toward the ice cold chill of the world’s suffering. But if our heart is aligned with Christ, the one who left Heaven’s glory and splendor to come into a sin-stained world to enter into our suffering to save us, then we, too, will follow in his footsteps.
What’s your own personal citadel? What current situation is preventing you from moving toward others’ suffering with love? May we all, like Nehemiah, be able to let news of the outside world’s pain penetrate through the walls of our own personal citadels.
God of Heaven, soften our hearts to hear the cries of the poor and downtrodden around the world. Like Nehemiah, help us face the world’s suffering with courage and compassion. Break down our own personal citadels in which we try to insulate ourselves from the pain around us. Amen.