Friday, April 15, 2011

The Hole in Our Gospel: Don't Give Up

I was reading through The Hole in Our Gospel for this mythical review that I am doing and was struck by a particular story.

In this story, a man is walking down a beach that is  covered with starfish that had been washed ashore during a recent storm. Unable to get back into the water, these thousands of starfish would all, inevitably, die. As the man ponders the tragedy of the death of the starfish, he sees another man walking down the same beach picking up starfish, one by one, and throwing them back into the water.
"What are you doing?" I yelled.
"Saving the starfish," he replied.
"But don't you see, man, that there are tens of thousands of them?" I asked, incredulous. "Nothing you can do will make a difference."
He did not answer me but instead bent down, picked up another starfish, and cast it back into the water. Then he smiled, looked me in the eye, and said, "It made a difference to that one!"
This story is mean to illustrate a common problem we face when dealing with the poverty or any other social issue. We are so overwhelmed by the size of the problem that we are too discouraged to take even the smallest steps.

This is an idea that you have probably heard before, it has been said in one way or another by many wise people:
"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do."
Helen Keller
"Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."Leo Tolstoy
"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the water creating many ripples"Mother Theresa
"The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time" 
African proverb
Inspirational quotes are candy to me, I feed on this stuff. But, even after hearing quotes such as these, though we (I) may begin do do the "small things," we (I) still quickly become discouraged.

See, even though we know we're only doing a small thing, we still expect to see big change. While taking the small steps does matter, it is simply not going to have a visible effect on the bigger issue. What we don't realize is that, when we set out to save the world, it is not necessarily going to cooperate.

This is why we cannot (personally) set out to change worldwide problems.

What? What kind of defeatist attitude is that?

Well though I have the heart of an idealist, I have the body of a pragmatist. It's a marvelous inspirational goal to envision world change, but when it comes down to actually do the work to change the world, you have to be a realist, otherwise you will be too discouraged to do the work.

We may know in some corner of our idealist heart that the little thing we are doing can, when taken collectively, change the world, but to find the drive to keep going while we're actually doing the little thing, we have to keep our eyes on something closer, something real.

Tuck that ideal away in your heart. Write it down. Frame it and put it on your wall. But keep something real, something attainable always in front of your eyes.

This is one of the major reasons that I advocate child sponsorship, it is one of the realest "little" things you can do to change the world.

By sponsoring a child, you are, quite literally, saving a life. You can see the effects of it immediately and it gives you the drive to keep doing it. Instead of investing time, money, heart, and effort into an impossible problem: ending world hunger, you are ending the hunger of one person. One child.

That's very real. And, yes, it changes the world.

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