Overwhelmed By Need {Part 2}

   

In Part One, I talked about how I often feel overwhelmed by the suffering I hear about around me, how sometimes all of the news stories drown in the noise of this digital age, and how I’m tempted to react to these painful and dark issues. But in the midst of this, I still believe there is light, there is hope, and we are called to action.

So how can we pursue justice, without spreading ourselves too thin, or being paralyzed to inaction? In 2013 I attended The Justice Conference in Philly, and the ideas of several speakers have been marinating in my mind over the past year. The thoughts they shared have really given me freedom and vision for how I want to live out God’s call in my own life to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly” with God. In particular, I found Eugene Cho’s message very practical, but there were several other speakers who touched on topics similar to the ideas he shared. I’m sharing here a few key points from Eugene’s talk, sprinkled with a few notes from other speakers and some of my own reflections [unless something is noted as another speaker, the ideas came from Eugene’s discussion]. Be sure to check out the full videos if you have time (links in the footnotes).

 

Going Deeper in Commitment to Justice and to God (Eugene Cho) [1]

  1. Be quiet, pray, and listen. “The pursuit of God is that which informs our pursuit of justice, and not the other way around.” This is a constant reminder for me. I struggle with this so much, but amid my doubts and questions about prayer, God has continued to give me reminders over the past year that it is important. I may not understand it, I may not be able to answer all the intellectual questions about it, but I know, deep in my spirit, it is important. It’s important to carve out time to be connected to God on a regular basis, and this is something I’m continually learning and need reminders of in this hectic, saturated life.
  2. Go deep. Become an expert in that which you are passionate about. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I heard it on NPR.’” The thing that makes your gut wrench [2], that you keep being pulled towards and just can’t turn away from—that’s where you need to dig in and passionately pursue knowledge. This is why it’s important not to spread ourselves out over a myriad of causes—most of us can’t truly be experts in all those things. “We’re so obsessed with wanting to be seen as having a platform that we just languish on the surface.” This was so what I needed to hear. I could choose to languish on the surface of 8 different issues, or I could choose to become an expert in what I’m really passionate about. This doesn’t mean I ignore all the other issues, but it does mean I can be a lot more effective in what I do.
    I would add to this: there needs to be balance between learning and action—we should become knowledgeable about the issues involved in order to be more effective in our action, but we shouldn’t let the pursuit of knowledge cause inertia, or to be an end in itself. It’s not enough just to know about the issue and educate others—we’ve got to stick our feet in the mud eventually. And it is in the actual building of relationships that this “justice thing” becomes not a question of theology or calling, but one of fighting for with the very people you call friends—family, even.
  3. Be tenacious. The work of justice is not a sprint. We must prepare for a marathon, for those moments when our legs feel like Jell-O and we just have to keep putting one leg in front of another. So often, people and churches that are giving to causes (like short-term missions, supporting long-term missionaries, or relief and development non-profits) want to hear the “sleek and sexy” stories—the huge changes, the marketable stories. And while I can understand the desire to make sure funds are going to legitimate causes, it shows a lack of understanding about the nature of poverty, missions, and justice. Real, lasting change takes time. And the work can be long and laborious. Boring, even.
  4. Gary Haugen, president of IJM, shared something similar. [3] “The kind of love that people actually need is love that overcomes fear; love that conquers monotony, tedium, boredom. This is the part they’ll never make a movie about.” He shared about people doing work in the field and that their days are filled with stacks of paperwork, and of arriving to court dates only to be told the date has been changed, time after time after time. But, he said, “The perpetrators know that the do-gooders show up late and leave early, and all they have to do is wait it out.” The work is hard, many times monotonous. It’s not breaking down brothel doors every day, like we see in documentaries.
    We must be tenacious enough to keep persevering through all of this hard stuff when we dedicate ourselves to something. We cannot give up when the emotions no longer run high or our hearts grow weary. We need God to sustain us, we need prayer, and we need to know that it will get boring. There will be days when it feels like tedium, when we want to give up, when we feel pressure to have something exciting to write home about, yet the only thing we have is the daily grind of working towards long-term change. What helped this point stick with me the most was Gary’s closing point. He shared the song, “The Book of Love.” It was the first time I had heard it, but it was hauntingly beautiful. It’s about sharing life together—the long and the boring, the everyday stuff. Not every day is a honeymoon, but love perseveres.
  5. You’ve got to take care of yourself—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. “When you feel that the grass is greener on the other side, it may be the Holy Spirit telling you to water the grass you’re standing on.” I remember a college professor of mine challenging us undergrads to take a Sabbath from all our studying every Sunday—and find rest. I took him up on that challenge for some time, though over the years, life’s plans have often consumed my time. I’ve been reminded throughout the past year of the importance of finding rest for my soul—whether it be 15 minutes daily, one day out of the week, or a weekend retreat throughout the year.

The needs around us are overwhelming, yes, and there will always be more to do. But as Eugene pointed out, we should not allow justice itself to become our idol—it is the pursuit of God that informs our pursuit of justice. God is at work, redeeming and healing physical and spiritual relationships in His creation. From this incredible grace He’s given us, there should flow an incredible love for others. I have found so much peace in realizing that I can’t do it all, but this doesn’t have to stop me from action. I can make small changes in my life, and I can be free to wholeheartedly pursue what I’m passionate about. I’ve found a much deeper sense of calling to dig in, become an expert, build relationships, be in it for the long haul, and seek the feet of Jesus.

What are your thoughts? What keeps you from spreading yourself too thin, or being paralyzed to inaction? Is there anything you would add?

 

[1] Eugene Cho, The Justice Conference, 2013
[2] Brenda Salter McNeil, The Justice Conference, 2013
[3] Gary Haugen, The Justice Conference, 2013

 

A few favorite quotes from Eugene’s talk that I just couldn’t leave out:

  • “Justice has the potential to become an idol if we allow it to be raised higher than God. We have to look at justice through the lens of God.”
  • “We might be more in love with the idea of changing the world than actually changing it.”
  • “Doing the work of justice is laborious—it’s deeper than a Facebook status. Everyone loves justice and compassion, until you realize that there is a cost.”
  • “We might not be able to change the world, but we can impact it for some.”

 

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  • Great post, Naomi. This is something I wrestle with a lot…being completely overwhelmed by the amount of need in the world… It used to paralyze me to the point of simply wanting to keep my head in the sand so I could continue to live in blissful ignorance of suffering. I still struggle to not run from it, and even allow myself to learn about things that I am unaware of in small enough doses that it doesn’t just become too much.

    What has helped me is to simply pick ONE thing that I can do. I can’t ‘do it all’…heck, I can’t even do a ‘lot’. But the quote above…”We might not be able to change the world, but we can impact it for some”…this, I think, is basically what I am trying to focus on. This is part of why I got involved with tutoring through Project Purpose. I can be there for one kid. I can help with homework, ask about his day, show him what it’s like to have someone that shows up and is committed when they say they will be. I can’t help every kid. I might not be able to help more than this one. But it’s a start. And from there, I do feel other things beginning to bud in my heart, but I’m trying to remind myself to go for the “long, slow burn”…something steady and sustainable…versus the ‘flash in the pan’ of passion. Trying to get rid of the ‘go big or go home’ mindset, and just keep my hand to the plow with what is right in front of me at the moment.

  • Thanks, Jess. I think that’s where I’m at right now, too…Realizing that I don’t have to (can’t) do it all has freed me to figure out what it is that I’m really passionate about and start to pursue it. But “pursuing it” doesn’t have to be some grand thing–just that ONE thing. It can be tutoring an adult in ESL…but being in it for the long, slow burn, like you said.
    I love reading your posts about tutoring at Project Purpose–I SO love their ministry (we connected with them through these justice hot topics we had at church). Hearing about it has been a gentle prodding for me to “stick my feet in the mud” and start with that one thing I feel God leading me toward.

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