when one of us hurts, we all hurt

“there may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” – elie wiesel

this past weekend i finished reading a thousand splendid suns by khaled hosseini.  whoa.  i had read the kite runner and seen the movie over christmas.   both of them were beautiful and i had heard that this new story was even harder, more painful.   well i can vouch for that being absolutely true!   a thousand splendid suns focuses in on the lives of women in afghanistan.  there were some pages where i honestly had to just set it down for a few minutes because it was so painful to witness vicariously this kind of brutal oppression and complete lack of dignity towards these women.  it reminded me that in some cultures women are lower than low.  they are cattle, meant to be used, abused, and cast aside.  sweet little baby girls born to mommies who had hopes and dreams for them, who nurtured and loved them, wanted more for them than their culture would ever allow–with no voices, forced into marriage to men 20 years older then them, meant to be slaves and really nothing more. 

i know i speak out all the time about the oppression of women in the church, that women are disrepected, don’t have a voice and the value that they should, and how contrary to the kingdom of God i think that is.   and of course inequality isn’t  just in the church; the united states has a long way to go in terms of equal rights.  but when you read something like this a voice goes off inside that says “you have nothing to complain about, look at them.”  and afghanistan is just one of many countless countries who devalue women to the ‘nth degree.  i’ve got it pretty good in comparison. 

but here’s why i fight off the voice:  injustice to another human being means injustice to all of us.  i do believe we are all connected, all of humanity.   when i read paul’s description of the body of christ in 1 corinthians 12, that we are a body, each part connected, i take it seriously–and beyond just “the body of Christ”, as in only people who call themselves christians.  to me, when one human being hurts, we all hurt.  i can’t disconnect myself from the pain and suffering of my brothers & sisters (no matter what their belief systems are, that is irrelevant to me–we are all created by God, in his image, his precious children, worthy of dignity, valuable.  christians don’t have the market cornered on being made in God’s image.)  when a woman, whether it be across the ocean or next door to our house, is getting the shit kicked out of her, the pain must ripple over to me…i cannot disconnect myself from her hurt, her struggle.    

and at the same time, when one of us receives healing and freedom, we all somehow benefit.   a victory, an injustice made right, means a victory for me, too.   and when we gain a little ground here–when one of my friends finally  leaves an abusive relationship and begins to realize her beauty and worth and live from a new place, well, that flows towards others, too.  it’s a victory for everyone, not just her.    “if one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the part are glad” – 1 corinthians 12:26

there will always be injustice in the world. i get that.  i acknowledge full well the reality of genesis 3 and what it means for us. but i also take Jesus’ words very seriously–God’s kingdom come, will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.   

i’ll say it again:  any injustice to one of our brothers and sisters is an injustice to us.  we  can’t just turn a blind eye and say “well, that’s in their culture, there is nothing we can do about it”…“well, that’s how the church has always been so there’s nothing we can do about it”….”heaven awaits and then it’ll all be made right.”    and reality is that i’m not heading over to kabul anytime soon to change the way women are being treated there (but there are some really cool organizations giving it a try, i don’t have time to research all the good stuff going on there but feel free to try a google search and learn more.).   

but here’s what i can do:  stand up for injustice in any way i can right where i am.  in the crazy church system i am loosely attached to, keep calling out the weird ways we stand by and let injustices permeate christ’s church.  fight for my friends who are in abusive relationships to find the courage to leave.  treat an illegal immigrant with dignity and vote on behalf of them.  encourage my daughter to stand tall and live out her dreams and not allow herself to be disrespected.  teach my boys to be men who love and respect women as equals, teammates, not someone just to serve them and give them babies.   stick up for my friends who are being bullied.  refuse to give money or time to systems that perpetuate injustice. 

oppression is not beyond us.  yes, as elie wiesel says, there are many injustices we can never prevent.  but we can always, always, always try.  we can protest, use our voices, vote with our feet, allow ourselves to feel others pain instead of ignoring it, refuse to distance ourselves from the plight of the afflicted, fight the tide of indifference.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • i’ve watched a special from Sundance featuring Micheal Myers and Deepak Chopra that had everything to do with the spiritual connectedness between laughter and sadness…twins from the same mother. i often wonder why when we laugh so hard tears come down our cheeks…maybe it’s because even in the midst of joy, when one of us hurts, we all hurt. i dig your post, and it resonates deep within me, for i feel i am always lamenting, trying so hard to escape my pain, while enter it on behalf of others for as they hurt, we hurt, and any ounce of healing i can encounter, perhaps i can extend to them, and vice versa. fighting injustice is a worthy cause, marches, rallies, signs, etc…this cause is one i am committed to, but i choose, a less “spotlight” approach, and try to just invest in lives of the oppressed…as we go unnoticed, and often with very very little to show for, except times of love/pain…for their oppression may or may not ever be fully removed, where we’ll always learn to laugh and cry at the same time.

  • Those two books are some of the only ones recently that I was compelled to read in one sitting. I read Splendid Suns a couple weekends ago, and it floored me, for the same reasons you mentioned.

    Thanks for being a voice to this. You encourage me.

  • Standing up for injustice is so important, yet so many of us, me included, so often fail to step up. For me, I think the reason for it follows along the lines of your previous post. It can seem like whatever I do will be so small and irrelevant that it’s not worth it. Besides, someone else will step up, right? I wish I had the energy and resolve to always stand up for the oppressed, the broken, and the hurting. I want to give myself a break and say that “it’s ok because I help out in other ways.” But there really is no excuse for not doing what’s right, especially because “when one of us hurts, we all hurt.” Thanks Kath.

  • sam the chicano homeboy: i agree my friend, i think it’s in the “unnoticed” moments of standing with each other quietly, feeling each other’s pain & borrowing hope from one another, that much more happens than we’ll ever, ever realize.

    erin: yeah they were both pretty exhausting in a good way, eh? jose was like “how can you torture yourself like that?” but i don’t see it as torture at all. i see it as opening my eyes & heart to the pain, the redemption. talk to you soon!

  • My 16 yo daughter read Kite Runner and loved it – I don’t regulate what they read – and she has been wanting to read this book too.
    The saddest part for me – although I feel as if I’m slowly waking up – is that when I read how you had to set the book down – I wondered if it would’ve effected me the same. I feel like I’ve become numb to injustice – not even just from being inside the church and all the things that happen there – but even as a little girl, when I would watch the shows calling for aide to this place or that where children were starving and people needed clean drinking water. I wanted to send every penny that I had – but my parents assured me there was nothing I, alone could do. Each time is another brick in the wall around me – cutting me off from the human experience of others.
    I am so thankful that wall is cracked –
    I am so thankful that stories like this don’t have to be us and them – but all about all of us and that it is okay for me to feel it and do something – however small it may be – as you said – even if it is just my voice saying this is wrong.
    It is a big wall. But it IS coming down.

  • For some reason my comment didn’t go through, but in short, I think this post goes hand in hand with your last post. Sometimes the motivation to step up is clouded because “I can’t really make a difference, and besides, if it’s really important, someone else will step up. Right??” Fact is, there really is no excuse for the one simple reason you highlight. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. Thanks for the convicting words.

  • jre: hey jose i really agree with that thought, that so many of us say “there’s nothing we can really do in the big scheme”. the result is that we do nothing when in reality, every little step we take, every little way we speak out & advocate & do things differently has a bigger ripple effect than we think. hey thanks for finally commenting honey! sorry yours went to spam the first time!

    jewls – your story reminded me how important it is to teach our kids to lean into and respond to whatever is stirred up in them and never ever minimize it. my daughter is a big reader, too…

    urh – honey urh2! (inside joke)

    jemila – thanks for stopping by. i always appreciate everything you share on the emerging women blog!

    phil – wow! i am blown away by this and will definitely be passing the word on. these are amazing photos & i am going to buy a few of the booklets and get the word out to some that i know will be interested, too. how do you guys know each other? thanks for stopping by!

  • Good thoughts Kathy. Thank you.

    Jewls–question–and I mean this in all seriousness, being currently involved in raising several little girls who seem very much like you were as a child. (I wasn’t this way myself). What could your parents have done differently? How do we raise tender hearted children without letting them bleed to death (or bleed the family finances) in the process? How do we affirm both that our efforts are never enough and that our efforts are enough? And how do we teach them to look for and care about root issues and not just symptoms without losing the human face on the surface?

    I thank God that for the gift of being able to raise my daughters in a time place where I can give them–if not, Kathy, full equality–more than women have had in most other times and places throughout history. I pray that they will grow up to be fully the women God created them to be.

  • Excellent and thoughtful post. It raises for me many questions. When you say “Refuse to give money or time to systems that perpetuate injustice” -how does that relate to how you serve within your church?

    How much should we chalk up to the imperfect nature of people in the church and how much should be challenged as institutional to the church?

    There are multiple diminsions to the problem – but I think you are right to pull it back to one-on-one interaction rather than allowing it to float in the “it’s historical, it’s cultural” stratisphere without being addressed.

  • Hi Sara – I didn’t realize there would be a question for ME here! I think I am going to post a reply on my own blog – so check there if you can. It felt like it was getting WAY too long to leave as a comment. 🙂

  • trekant – thanks for stopping by. you ask a good question: “how does ‘refuse to give money or time to systems that perpetuate injustice’ relate to how you serve within the church?” well for me i will not be part of a system that does not allow women in leadership. to me, these are oppressive systems that do not allow the full giftedness of every human being to flourish & keep power too safely contained. i also will not be part of a system that does not provide ways for every person to somehow have a voice–as in, if only the pretty people get to talk. if messy people are marginalized and subtly put to the side, if there’s an “us-them” mentality. i believe those are subtle forms of oppression that many people ignore. i am with you that the church will always be imperfect because it is made up of imperfect people. i do not expect in any way shape or form for perfection. but i do believe in an openness to the conversation & a tough look at just how subtly we have ignored kingdom principles just because “that’s the way it’s always been.” it is a lot to chew on! would love to hear your continued thoughts…

    sara – great question. jewls, let us know when you post on it!

  • Hey Kathy!! I made the mistake of reading this book on an airplane…and my husband was giving me the same line of why are you doing this to yourself? I know everyone around me thought I was crazy as the tears flowed and every once in awhile I would snap the book shut with an exclamation of some sort….I am pretty sure Chuck plans on censoring what books I fly with after that experience!!
    I love how you bring down what we CAN do to doable things as it would be extremely frustrating to be unable to act on the hurts & injustices going on in the world around us.

  • hey donna, that is so funny, our same experiences! i agree, we all need try-able little things we can do to make a difference that create small or big ripples in ways we don’t even know. otherwise it is too overwhelming.

  • These books have been on my list of titles to read for a while now. This may be the push I needed to move them further up the list, thanks.


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