The Fast that I Have Chosen

October 12, 2010

“Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

-Isaiah 58:6-7

When I was studying abroad in Spain and interning at UNICEF, I repeated these verses in my journal like I myself had penned the very refrains. I steadfastly maintained that this was indeed the fast I was choosing for my life, and could clearly imagine it all coming to fruition in an Amazon jungle, where I would learn to live off the land and speak an obscure indigenous dialect. It would be a grand adventure and could even result in a chance to pierce something else exciting. (God, I miss my eyebrow ring.)

Never did I imagine that loosening the chains of injustice would be something I’d fight for while living at home in Escondido of all places. And not in a million years did I anticipate how painfully difficult it would be to really pursue it. I supposed a life of change would be challenging, but I did not expect all out death. Ah, naivete.

This job is fucking hard.

My coworker M is the hardest woman I know. After five years as a Family Advocate, I swear you could beat that lady’s heart with an iron bar and the iron bar would shatter. My other coworker is so incredibly depressed, I often legitimately fear he is on the brink of suicide. Me? I spent about five hours last week crying simply as a result of stress, and five hours is something that does not happen infrequently. (And by crying, I mean unrequited choking sobs, tears and snot to fill the Pacific Ocean, and waking up with the facial visage of the Hunchback of Notre Dame the morning after.)

I face off with police officers who threaten with their batons to storm the shelter grounds. I conduct drug and alcohol searches and regularly find incriminating evidence. I commit schizophrenics to mental hospitals, and make myriad trips to the Emergency Room for bloodcurdling injuries. I spar with abusers who show up at the front door, and pray for protection from the gang shoot outs a few houses away. I make calls to CPS workers and elder abuse agencies to seize custody of the mistreated. I take care of soiled mattresses and bed linens, and I spent the night of my twenty-third birthday scrubbing human waste off a filthy bathroom floor (a memorable one for the ages to be sure).

I deal daily with clients who scream at me, curse indelible obscenities at me, write my boss to say that I need counseling, and I have even encountered a few who have expressed their hope that someday someone will beat me too. That’s not even the half of it. Not to mention, this is all the selfish stuff–the stuff that happens to me. I have not even opened the can of worms that is victim stories. We will go there another depressing day.

I have been at this job for a ridiculously full almost-year, and one would assume that with nearly twelve months under my belt, I would have acquired greater calm and developed an ability to deal. Not so. In fact, I feel cagier, more cynical, and pretty stinking exhausted. It becomes exceedingly more difficult with each passing day to choose joy, to choose love, and to remember that I have chosen this fast.

Isaiah 58 (vs. 8-11) continues with this:

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer,
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The Lord will guide you always
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.”

Lord, I am waiting.