"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Making a Difference—One Action at a Time

By Micky Wolf

I’m a positive kind of person, yet a series of recent experiences has left me wondering if we will ever live in a culture and world that is more focused on being compassionate and loving than cruel and mean-spirited. Those who are Christian tend to believe that won’t happen on this planet until Jesus returns and puts things in order. But in the meantime?

…my beloved and I recently watched a movie (a favorite pastime, especially in the longer, darker hours of winter) based on a true event, the Japanese invasion—often referred to as the rape or massacre--of Nanking China in 1937.

…read parts of two news stories (couldn’t go any further) which had to do with radical Muslim terrorists intentionally killing and maiming children and women they believed to be members of opposition sects.

…watched an interview with a leading state official whose language and demeanor, by any standard, was anything but professional as he criticized and condemned the actions of pro-life, pro-heterosexual lifestyle advocates who, by any description, were behaving in a civil and responsible manner.

…listened as a sports star ranted on and on about his incredible talent and skills which, in his estimation, far exceeded anything the competition was capable of demonstrating.

…in a public, common area, heard an older teen yell a string of obscenities at a younger sibling.

The realities behind the first two of these events occurred in distant places, the last three here in the states. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. The pragmatics among us would be quick to say, “That’s the way it is, and has been since the beginning of time.” Maybe so. Others might be as quick to add, “Why pay attention to the ugly stuff? Focus on the good things.” Truth in that for sure.

On the other hand, the state of the world was pretty much the same when Jesus arrived the first time and there is plenty of evidence to indicate he did not avoid the ugly, but rather allowed these circumstances and the people who inhabited them to provide the greatest opportunity to demonstrate God’s love.

I am most grateful God did not plant me amidst unrelenting war, devastating poverty, or under the constant threat of personal violation or harm. At the same time, I can’t help but believe our good God  hopes we won’t settle for, “Sure glad that’s not me” and continue on our merry way.

Overcoming the fear factor…

Almost guaranteed—one of the first things we feel when God wants us to make a difference in some way or another—is the stirring of fear. And this little bugger can take a lot of forms—fear of being hurt, physically or otherwise; fear of sacrificing personal time, energy or resources on behalf of some person or cause that is messy or complicated; fear of being rejected or misunderstood; fear of not having anything to show for our action.

There is a time and place for healthy fear. Nonetheless, I can think of instances where I have allowed this reality to weigh disproportionally on my choice to act.  After all, I reason, there are a lot of good things I do, so why risk my hard-earned assets, sat upon or otherwise?

Little actions add up…

We can never underestimate the power of prayer. Offering our petitions and thanks needs to be as natural and present as our breathing. However, let us not overlook how much good can come from what may seem to be the smallest action. The key is to remember that while we cannot change the world at large, we can ‘be a ripple’ that sets love in motion.

We’ve heard the exhortation many times: “Make a phone call, write a note, deliver a home-made meal, pick up a prescription, set an extra place at the table.” You and I have likely chosen some of these actions, and on more than one occasion.

But is it enough? No. Nothing you or I do will ever be enough to erase all the ugliness in the world, or prevent it from continuing. But if we succumb to believing our small actions are mostly insignificant, there will come a time when we cease doing even the littlest thing, thinking it isn’t going to make much difference, if any. That, fellow sojourner, would be a grave mistake.

So, what are some options?

We can choose to dialog with those who have different value or belief systems in the hope we can better understand one another and avoid or minimize violence (physical or verbal) in the first place.

We can choose words and adopt attitudes that are kind and considerate of others, whether family, friends or strangers. This includes the situations when we are feeling angry or frustrated. Why else would Jesus tell us to “be angry and sin not”?

As unique human beings created in the image and likeness of God, we can choose to use the gifts He has given each of for the greater good, and do so without fanfare. Pretty simple, yet how we want to be recognized or applauded anytime we accomplish a task or reach a goal.

It makes no difference where we live, work, or recreate—each of us has our own unique struggles and challenges. In the end, there is no action of love too small or little to make a difference in someone’s life. If you have any doubt, smile at the next person you see.

How do I feel when I see or hear about violence and mean-spiritedness, near or far?

Do I tend to get discouraged? Throw up my hands with an attitude of why bother?

Can I choose one small action of love before the day is over?   

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