How to Be Faithful and Focused in the Face of the World’s Pain
One of my first memories of my freshman year of college is the activities fair that was held in the student center. I attended a large, state university with tens of thousands of students, and hundreds of organizations had booths set up at the fair, inviting students to come and join their ranks. Despite having a relatively good idea of the types of things I’d like to be involved in, I was completely overwhelmed. There were so many good and meaningful things to choose from, and I struggled to know how to decide.
I’d like to say that I grew out of the feeling that there are so many things worth my time and effort that I may need to divide myself in two. But the fact is, as I’ve grown older, while I’ve found deeper passions and grown roots that I did not have had as a young adult, I’ve also discovered so many more possibilities. While I’ve learned more about myself and my specific calling in life, I’ve also learned about so much more of the world, so much more of pain and need, and I find myself wanting to step up and engage however I can.
So Much Pain in the World = Overwhelmed Hearts
I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this. Posts on social media these days seem to rotate between telling one another what we should or should not care about, and telling each other that we’re tired of being told what we should or should not care about. There is no shortage of opportunities to pursue personal development, to become a better parent, spouse, or friend, to learn a new skill, to read a new opinion, or to engage a new issue. As Christians, we ought to desire to live holistic lives that are not merely driven by love of self, nor by work, nor by play, but by worship and fullness and growth spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.
And yet we find ourselves so quickly overwhelmed, so very much like that little freshman version of myself standing amidst a sea of possibilities, especially when it comes to engaging a hurting world. The stakes are so high, the needs are so great, and our efforts can feel so minimal, like the tiniest drop in the bucket. Some of us are tempted to spread ourselves thin, to participate wherever we can, and we find ourselves burnt out, a sour taste left in our mouth when we think of volunteering or serving. Some of us are tempted to look away altogether, to convince ourselves that someone else with a different set of skills or family life or schedule or personality, will step up and do the work. Some of us long for a better way, for a frame of mind that will propel us toward meaningful engagement, for a heart that beats for the oppressed, for hands ready and able to do the work. I think the Spirit is calling us toward that better way.
The Answer to the Overwhelm: Pick a Lane
In order to embrace the better way, we must understand our limitations in view of God’s limitlessness. We are made in the image of God, intended to reflect Him in the world. We are like Him, yes, but we are not boundless as He is. Our human minds and bodies are constrained by time, by the need for sleep and food, by variances in mental and emotional capacity. Often when we remember this, when we reflect on the truth that we are finite and limited, we feel discouraged or reduced, as though we cannot do the things we hope do to. But while some plans or dreams may need to be set aside, there is one thing we know for sure - God has prepared in advance good works for us to do, and He beckons us not to grow weary in doing good. The Spirit equips us for every good work, and we are not to understand our humanity as a barrier to our calling, but as a tool in discovering what it is and an asset in carrying it out for the good of others and the glory of God.
In a world that tells us more is better and that having it all is the goal, it is counterintuitive to believe that faithful focus is in fact better. Yet, I have found that when I have the humility to pick a lane, to drive hard and fast and well along the road that God has laid before me, I am more able to bless those around me than I ever could have been while swerving from one lane to the next.
Picking a lane may look different depending on your situation, but I have found that the best place to start is with an understanding of how you are wired and gifted, alongside an understanding of the needs of your local community. Are you a stellar room mom at your child’s elementary school, and you’ve recently noticed that immigrant or refugee students are underserved? Do you drive past a crisis pregnancy center every day? Does your church have partnerships with local community organizations? Do you have experience in education, or medicine, or law, or art, or music, or cooking, or administration? Consider how those gifts may be a blessing to your community, and don’t worry about whether it’s official or spontaneous or big or small or known or unseen or something you’re going to do for the rest of your life. Pick a lane, and start driving.
Encourage Those In Different Lanes than You
One of my favorite aspects of the “pick a lane” way of thinking is that it includes lanes alongside mine, other cars driving on them. While my way of extending hope in the world may look like communication about race issues, or partnering with a single mom in her journey toward employment, or fundraising for foster and adoptive families, friends are driving alongside me in their own lanes labeled “education” and “refugees” and “abolition” and so much more. I’m reminded as we drive alongside each other that sometimes my job is to flash my headlights into their lanes, to make sure others know about their work and to join with them in it.
I’m also reminded that while we are driving in different lanes, we’re driving the same road, toward the same goal of bringing about peace and justice in the world, of living in anticipation of the Kingdom come. I don’t need to compare my lane, my car, my speed of travel, my milestones reached, or the popularity of my lane, because it simply isn’t about any of that. It’s about focused faithfulness alongside one another, acknowledging that the world is full of countless injustices that require specific responses, and we’re each going to raise our hands and say, “I can’t do it all, but I want to do something. I’m picking a lane.”
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Abby Perry has written for The Gospel Coalition, Christ and Pop Culture, Upwrite Magazine, and The Influence Network. She is the communications coordinator for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts—one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations and one supporting area foster and adoptive families. Abby graduated from Texas A&M University and currently attends Dallas Theological Seminary. She and her family live in College Station, Texas. Find her on Twitter.