Are We There Yet?: Thinking Through Perplexities of Lebanon

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By Smyrna Khalaf

“Are we there yet?” This is a question parents with young children have gotten used to hearing – especially during long drives – and it can drive everyone else crazy. Children usually ask this question not because they want to annoy their parents but because they don’t have a sense of time and distance necessary to understand and accept their situation.

Recently, I’ve been hearing and reading this phrase all over social media in #Lebanon. Are we there yet? It is referring to whether we have reached rock bottom, or reached hell. Lebanese people are so bewildered and confused during this crisis that they seem to have no sense of time and distance …no sense of how long this will last and no idea if it will ever get better.

Recently we hit a new level of the crisis: No fuel. No milk for newborns. Standing in line for hours waiting for gas and having to ask everyone you know if they can help you find medicine. Shortages extend to electricity, internet services, bread, clean water, perishable foods, health care machines in hospitals, and many other essentials.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the people in Lebanon have reached a place of helplessness and hopelessness. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943), the Lebanese people are losing, or even have lost, the first two levels of needs, which are the physiological needs (things like food, shelter, and sleep) and safety needs (including security, employment, and health).

We, the Lebanese, are proud of the fact that we are considered resilient. We keep saying we are the phoenixes who rise from the ashes… but who are we in the storm? Who are we under fire? Who are we after being defeated repeatedly? Trauma after trauma… multi-level, ongoing trauma.

I look at my people, at my country, and my heart aches, my heart is broken… How can I bring hope to my people when my heart is shattered?

It is possible to bring hope to people when you have the end in sight or when you have a clear goal for the future. It is easier to bring hope to people when their crisis is on one level… but what do you do when the crisis is multi-leveled and ongoing?

This current situation in Lebanon reminds me of when the Apostle Paul addresses the church at Corinth. Although there are differences, the church at Corinth was suffering because of ministry and our suffering is due to bad decisions made by our governing rulers, we can reflect on this chapter and find some lessons that tap into how we can support people around us – our community.

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4 an encouraging passage for his audience. He uses the sandwich technique in administering his message to the Corinthians. First, he starts and ends this passage with a wonderful encouragement: “we do not lose heart.” What powerful words! As children of the King of Kings we ought not lose heart because we are His precious children. Paul continues and states in verses 8 and 9 that “we are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” This shows us that Paul isn’t ignoring what is happening; he is not in denial. These verses reveal that Paul is acknowledging the feelings of the Corinthians and empathizing with them as if saying I know it’s hard to be pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and dealing with all the other challenges around you. He doesn’t just stop at counting and naming the feelings, he adds “lifting-up” words… words that target the “being” of people and their value. Therefore, we ought to imitate Paul in acknowledging the issues we are going through, empathizing with our community, and not acting as if we live in another world.

We wonder how we can reach the level of hopefulness found in this passage. Paul addresses this in the last verse of chapter 4 by saying, “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Here Paul is referring to focusing our eyes on God who is eternal, who is in control, who is the author of everything, who is all-knowing, who is all-loving, who cares for us and the details of our lives. Therefore, when we acknowledge who God is, his love, his greatness, etc… everything else becomes a phase… we get to have a different perspective … we get to be reminded of the bigger picture that God has for us… a hopeful perspective.

How can we bring hope to others around us? We notice that Paul puts himself in the equation and models to the Corinthians how he is facing his suffering so that they will imitate him. Therefore, the thing we can do is model this hopefulness, this new perspective of where God is in this equation. The underlying message will be: if I can do it – If I can have hope… so can you!

So, are we there yet? Yes and no…

Yes, we are almost rock bottom.

No, we will not be beaten down because we are looking towards the goal…towards eternity with God. Our “there” is different.

We are not all-knowing, but we know one thing that whether in good or bad times, our Eternal God is in control. He is loving, all-knowing, caring…
therefore, we ought to live our life on this earth with eternity in mind!

Smyrna is Assistant Professor of Marriage and Family Counseling at ABTS.

4 Comments

  1. Thank you, Smyrna, for this excellent article. Our hope is in the Lord, whatever our circumstances may be.

    I think I hear echoes of your father voice in your writing. He was a dear friend and colleague to me.

    • Smyrna Khalaf says:

      Thank you Dr. King! This is encouraging for me! You know, 2 days ago we were looking through pictures and saw some of you and Mrs. King and I was telling my children about you and your role in my dad’s life! Blessings to you!

  2. georgemw says:

    Thank you Smyrna, for this light of faith and love, shining out of the cracked clay jar of broken societal structures and infrastructures. It shows the way to those of us in contexts where the light is but a glimmer, barely glimpsed from inside more substantial and comfortable containers. It is a powerful witness to the source of that light, the Light of the World.

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