“Do for one what you wish you could do for all.”

12 Feb

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 I recently heard the above title and it helped me ties up loose ends that I had avoided for quite a few years. Sure, I had considered it figured out in my head, but never in such a succinct manner. You see, back in 2008 when I was in Uganda, I was faced with various issues around the world that are beyond overwhelming: child labor, the ever-popular figure that 25,000-35,000 children under the age of five die daily, a drought in East Africa, a pandemic somewhere else, AIDS here, malaria there. All of these things caused me to think deeply for quite some time about how I could respond. I wanted to help, but how could I help in all of these causes?

The answer was simply: I couldn’t.

So I took some advice from Mother Teresa at the time and attempted to “do small things with great love.” And I decided that whatever my life work would be involved in, it would be focused and specific so as I wouldn’t be spread out too thinly to ever make any real difference.

However, even with a specific focus, there is still the possibility that I might not ever make a real dent on whatever particular issue I end up giving my life to. Again, this, deep in the back of my mind, caused me some discomfort.

“What good is giving your life to something if it’s not going to make any real difference?” I would hear.

So it was at this point that I realized that it is far more important to be faithful than to be effective. Sure results are nice. But at the end of the day, I don’t feel the need to justify myself with statistics and numbers that make me feel good about myself. If, by the time I die, they accrue, that’s great! But if not, then no worries. It’s not up to me to save the world—this is a deeply misled attitude that many United Statesians have these days, but I digress.

Again, it’s not up to me to save the world.

My objective in life is to discern with others a mode of living that may not make a whole lot of sense to most people but will remain faithful to what we understand God to be leading us to do. If I can find my niche and work at it with all of my being, then I will die satisfied. My goal is to help people. If I can’t help millions of people, but there is a handful of people that I am able to help, and I do, then my life is a success.

But again, my conscience and conditioned U.S. ways creep in and say, “What difference does it make if you help a handful of people? Will you leave the rest to fend for themselves?”

And again, I must brush off these faulty fatalistic premises and speak truth to myself. The reality is that I’m not alone. You see, the reason these premises are both faulty and fatalistic are that they are from a specific neoliberal worldview that views humanity as a great conglomerate of individual monads. However, as a follower of Jesus, I realize from the get-go that this is wrong. We are not individual monads; for we were created for community and at the very core of our being—ontologically speaking—is a deep thirst to know and be known. Since we are not individual monads, we do not have to listen to the nonsense that our conscience tells us.

If I were to view the world from the perspective of an individual monad, I would be devastated and would be a true pessimist—to the point of suicide. For if my life has no meaning and impact, then what point is there to live?

Again, thankfully I don’t view the world in this way. I am a communal being which necessitates the other. To my understanding, the other is my fellow pilgrim, another beloved child seeking to follow and become more like our rabbi, Jesus.

Since I am not alone—for one cannot follow Jesus alone, I promise you that!—I do not fear what will happen to the others that I am unable to help. Which enables me to focus on the handful of people that I do have the ability to partner and journey with. For “helping” is not a one way street, it is a journey of learning embarked on together. As I teach, I also learn and vice versa.

Again, since I am not alone I am filled with hope that my God will inspire my fellow brothers and sisters—can I just say that I love being “children of God” because it erases any goofy and instinctual desires to create any form of hierarchy; we are all simply children under our heavenly father—and they too will affect change on a handful of people. Hopefully, through our encounters with Jesus we will become more like him and will be filled with love. Then love will fill our encounters with others and hopefully they too will be filled. In essence, slowly by slowly, love will abound and the handful of people that are initially effected will then begin to affect others by passing on the newfound love they have. The idea is that we are blessed in order to be a blessing. We are never blessed individually. Anyone who tells you that is lying to your face. We are ALWAYS blessed instrumentally so that we might bless others. (If you don’t believe me look at scripture, especially Genesis 12:1-3)

So anyways, back to the beginning. I like to imagine that I am a weaver holding on to this big piece of tapestry. There are many different holes and things to be fixed and the tapestry is so vast, I might never even fix .0001% of it myself. However, I don’t see it like this at all, for that would overwhelm me and I would simply quit weaving all together. I look to my right and see my beloved bride, Maggie, weaving alongside me. To my left I see my mother, smiling and working diligently. To her right I see my sister, also working diligently. To Maggie’s right I see my good friend Jared, weaving his little heart out. To his right are my friends Jon and Adrienne working together and weaving beautifully. Across from me I see JM, Andrew, and Steve squirreling around with their piece of tapestry, and to the left them our good friends Grace and Patrick working with great passion. The the right of them I see my grandparents and both of them has the tapestry right near their faces (not because their sight it poor but because they are so focused on weaving and love it so). And on down the line, on both sides of the tapestry it continues. But each of these people actually isn’t weaving. Maggie and I are trying desperately to love the people here in Rwanda by helping the the local diocese development office. My mother is spreading love by first loving Lila and Lexi and having that love spread to new friends in Colorado. Tiffani is spreading love by working with special needs children and having patience, tenderness, and kindness. She reaps and sows the fruit of the Spirit. My friend Jared loves the youth that he works with and genuinely wants to help improve the city he lives in. And again, it continues. Each person that I can see near or next to me on the tapestry is building for the Kingdom of God. They might not be the best at it—I’m not even the best at it—but the point is that we’re all trying. Not for results or effectiveness but merely seeking to be faithful to loving as God has called us to love. I have hope because it’s not up to me to fix the world. But I am honored to have a role in building for a new Kingdom and an alternative reality. As I wake up I’m not trying to change the whole world. All I’m trying to do is, slowly by slowly, meet the handful of people I encounter daily where they are and with great love. I fail often, but I’m learning and that’s what is important. Progress not perfection.

(And for all of you pessimists out there, I understand that this might be a bit idealistic. And you’re right, it is. I myself find myself often being negative under the veil of “realism” or “pessimism” so this isn’t for you. It’s for me. I need this in order to stay positive in light of all the hardship in the world. So while it might not seem realistic, that’s okay. It’s simply positive reinforcement and it’s quite helpful! You should try it sometime!)

Love,

J & M

P.S. This is a “theological reflection” I had to do for school that I thought I’d share.

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4 Responses to ““Do for one what you wish you could do for all.””

  1. Grandma February 14, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    great job Justin. Grandpa and I were so blessed by reading this and so proud of you. God bless you in your work there in Rwanda. love you and Maggie

  2. Tabs February 19, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    This is beautiful and encouraging. I agree that God is far more concerned with our hearts being faithful to Him than our “successes or fruit” and the awesome thing is that out of that, God gives us what we need to be catalysts of love and healing. Love and miss you guys and praying for you always.

  3. Tyler February 19, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Dude, this is wonderful. I totally feel you on this. I am kind of at the point in my life where I don’t expect anyone I encounter to really change…but I do expect myself to change. I find that if I become too concerned with actually making a difference than judgment and anxiety overwhelm the love that I am able to give. We cannot force anyone to do anything, and we shouldn’t, Jesus didn’t. We love, and whatever happens, happens. This is a very freeing realization. I too hear, “What good is giving your life to something if it’s not going to make any real difference?” Some people remind me of this when I tell them that I am honestly not too concerned with the results of what I do. Obviously I would prefer good results, but its not necessary for me to feel like I am doing what I need to be.
    Thank you for this.

    Is this a new blog that you started?!

    • justinbest February 20, 2012 at 6:46 am #

      Yeah man, Maggie and I started it to document our travels here in Rwanda and our (belated honeymoon) stops through Europe on the way back.

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