Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not Ready To Fall Yet

Sometimes, minding one’s business and going one’s own way become mind-numbingly predictable. The ennui brings on the thought that, maybe, that’s not what life is supposed to be all about. Shouldn’t there be some quest to make a difference, to rub shoulders with the world and leave a mark that shows how this is a better place owing to the fact that not only did I pass through, but I did something about it while I was here?

That was the nagging feeling that prompted me to start this blog in the first place: isn’t there something more that I should be doing with my life? I took that little nugget of annoyance as a prompt, and passed the challenge along to family: what are we going to do with our lives?

Answers to that question, of course, can be rather messy. Changing course has all sorts of auxiliary impacts. Some of them are not entirely risk-free. So the predictable response in the face of risk is to do nothing! But the clock is ticking away, demanding an answer, calling me back to face that question. With nothing to force the answer, however, I become stagnant in a nice eddy in some backwater lagoon.

In the mail a while back, I received one of those heart-wrenching pleas for financial assistance. This particular letter solicited donations for orphans trapped in the pathetic plight of the nation with the world’s highest inflation rate—Zimbabwe, which, according to the BBC last year, saw an inflation rate of over 8000%, making our own financial troubles a mere blip on the radar. Of course, I wanted to send something, anything, everything to these children who must be hurting so much. Here were people who were victims of someone forcing the questions of life: their lives had to change, and they had neither voice in the plan or the result of it.

And then, my husband enlightened me on what was happening in Zimbabwe. A little history lesson laid out the panoply of events that moved the nation from “Africa’s breadbasket” to poverty’s devastation. If a nation has brought this misfortune upon itself, should we really deprive ourselves to give a helping hand that might turn further against the people it is meant to help? No sense providing something that can be turned into further fuel for the fire.

That same scenario and doubt play themselves out when I look and see what can be done to make a difference on our own street corners—although, certainly, in much less dire situations. Our family drives somewhere—out for a bite to eat, or a visit to a different part of town—and invariably, a stranger is there with a story of the miserableness of his life and a need which he is asking us to fix with a handout. Learning from years of practical experience, my husband has often seen these “donations” end up being funds to continue supporting a drug or drinking problem that started the whole mess.

Remembering such scenarios puts a chill on taking compassionate action: what if the misfortune is the victim’s own fault? Should we perpetuate such mistakes? How compassionate is compassion that only helps to buy more misery?

And so, lacking answers, I do nothing.

It is a strange thing that, at this same time, I struggle so with wondering what I can do to advance God’s kingdom, be of use to Him. This very blog was started with the question: what should I do with my life? The sanest answers seem to be the safest ones, but they are not the most gratifying ones. The answers that seem most real are the ones that serve to make a difference. But making a difference must, by definition, be the most risky course of action.

My husband spends a lot of time considering how to effectively make a difference. In the case of the occasional homeless person asking for “some change” for a cup of coffee or the “stranded motorist” asking for a dollar for enough fuel to make it home, he has answers that go right to the point of need. Hungry? Let’s go to the sandwich shop; I’ll buy you lunch. Out of gas? Bring your gas can to the station; I’ll spring for a gallon for your car.

Those are immediate answers for immediate needs. A moment’s risk at a sandwich shop makes a difference in one stomach for one meal. What about the rest of life? How do you make a difference there? It really comes down to facing up to taking risk—choosing a course of action that not only will make a difference for someone else’s immediate moment, but that will also place us on a path that will be anything but predictable, nice, orderly and in our control.

Some have compared this to falling: when you slip, the best way to fall is to just let go and fall. Holding on, being tense, clutching for help sometimes makes the fall only worse. When you let go, decide to let yourself go to the risk of falling, it somehow buoys you up so you don’t have to fear taking the risk. Only then can the possibilities really open up and flow to you.

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