by Elizabeth Hunter

One night at bedtime, my youngest child surprises me by asking God to bless the people who will be awake while he sleeps. His firefighter uncle, putting in a 24-hour shift. The bakers, making fresh bread for the morning. The police, charged with keeping everyone safe.

I ask if he can add any more. He does. People driving trucks and flying planes. Sad people. People without homes. Animals, like the ones in his glow-in-the-dark book about nocturnal mammals and the moon.

After a while, his brother and I chime in. We pray for neighbors we know, for those we don’t, and especially for those whom we imagine inhabit uncomfortable places—those not tucked into fire engine bedsheets or surrounded by teddy bears, felt alligators and a stuffed Totoro. Peace comes, calm and bright as the moon behind the window curtain.

Sometimes the days are blurry. Sometimes we come to see Jesus at night. Much like Nicodemus, we strain our eyes at a glimpse of divinity, stuck on small details, wondering at the big picture. But Jesus can illuminate even our nighttime wonderings. Who is this God who comes not to condemn the world, but to love it? Where in our daily lives can we find this life-giving water, this renewing Spirit that Jesus speaks of to both Nicodemus (John 3) and the woman at the well (John 4)? What would it mean for each of us to be made “all anew”—the words of the Women of the ELCA triennial theme?

We find ourselves in a unique moment of renewal this year during the celebration of 500 years of Reformation. This month we also enter the season of Pentecost, recognizing that God is doing a new thing.

Bible study author Kelly Fryer challenges us (page 22) to see that renewal is a messy process that involves saying “goodbye to nice” and hello to “good.” What’s wrong with nice? As Fryer explains, “nice is not the same as good. … Nice doesn’t dare risk upsetting the status quo, worries about ‘what the neighbors might say’ and fears losing face.”

Many of this issue’s authors acknowledge that being good can be uncomfortable. “Have my years on church committees so absorbed me that I’ve been blind to real injustice?” Anne Basye wonders (page 8). Admits Denise Rector (page 5), “…maybe I do know the best way to level the playing field—and I just don’t want to do it.”

Yet women of faith are already choosing the “good,” writes Sonia C. Solomonson (page 20). For example, “the causes [of] Women of the ELCA aren’t nice, warm and fuzzy…racism, domestic violence, commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking. … God calls us to speak for those on the margins and to be about justice. It is good that we do so.”

And as our biblical ancestors learned, being “good” rather than “nice” changes the way we live. After all, people in the Bible dealt with abundance and scarcity, celebration and grief, justice and injustice, prejudice, violence and poverty—just as we do. They, too, struggled to see beyond divisions, beyond themselves.

Can we begin to live as though our neighbors are “us,” and no one is “them”? When we read Scripture, can we go beyond the viewpoints of those with whom we identify? Can we empathize with the characters we don’t always notice, perhaps because we think they don’t deserve it or because it is too dark or we are too tired or perhaps because their work goes on while we are sleeping?

After all, God sees things differently than you or I. God makes a baby the savior of the world. God feeds the hungry with good things. God offers grace (freely giving what we haven’t earned) and mercy (withholding the punishment we deserve). God’s way of renewal turns the way of the world upside down.

It’s not tame. It’s not nice. But it is good to remember that day or night, amid messy renewal, we are washed with God’s love.

Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.