A couple of years ago I heard Amy Beth deliver a well-received talk based on Beth Moore's book, Get Out of That Pit. The part of her talk that I have referred back to many times centered on the three ways we get into "pits" in the first place.
1. We fall in.
2. We are victimized in some way that amounts to being thrown in. (like Joseph in Genesis)
3. We decide to get in. (We know better, but we just want to.)
As simple as this all sounds, I found it profound. And because I am a sociologist at heart that likes to examine motives and root causes, I have spent a lot of time since then looking at the pits people are in and analyzing which of the three categories explains their predicament.
The trouble is, examining how they got there doesn't do a lot to get them out. I may feel wise and/or like I have learned some moral lesson...but analysis alone still leaves people in the pit.
The nature of my life and volunteer work is such that I know all kinds of people--and all kinds of hair-raising stories. I have friends right now in major pits--and for a couple of the most complicated, they are pits that are largely the third kind. Their stories have elements of victimization and falling, but ultimately, their pits are particularly deep because of their choices to dive in. In one case in particular, they dove in and kept digging. And now it is a big, huge, muddy mess.
As a result, I have been faced with a choice: to help them in their attempts to scale the walls of their pit or to leave them there while I analyze all their bad choices.
It is just like God that this would come right on the heels of a foreign mission project. I spent a week with people who were in the pit of poverty--largely as a result of generational, societal and governmental circumstances beyond their choosing. It was easy to want to help them. Their need felt so pure--and, honestly, I flew in and back out in a few days with little knowledge of their junk or sin. I was unencumbered by any knowledge of who struggled with what sin. There may very well have been a community floozie, an addict or two, people who were irresponsible and/or just generally annoying, but we didn't stick around long enough to examine all of those layers. We simply showed up, recognized a need and in the name of Jesus addressed it without judgment.
Frankly, what was relatively easy in another part of the world challenges me at home. Sin angers me--particularly when it hurts other people and I don't perceive someone as 'sorry enough.'
Mercy is the cry of my heart when I fall on my face, but when it is others I seem too quick to want justice for their sin instead. Why are we seemingly wired this way? Yes, there are absolutely consequences to sin--but why the need to pile on and/or malign?
Today, as I have been praying through some of the hard situations in my real life I seem to feel a nudging that says: Yes, it is wise to examine how a person wound up in a pit in order to avoid winding up there again...but sometimes, the how isn't the best/only focus.
It is counter cultural, but it is Biblical. We are called to speak truth seasoned with grace. We can't rescue people, only the Savior can, but Grace calls us to follow Jesus' example of simply extending an invitation to get out of the pit.