Monday, October 26, 2009

Doing what we can for justice

I've recently started using again as a way to trade books. While browsing around for books to add to my wishlist I stumbled upon one where the "blurb" immediately caught my eye,

"Most of us care. We really do. We care about poverty and injustice, about orphans and the sick. And yet, weighed down by the everyday tasks of bringing home a paycheck, putting food on the table, and shuttling kids around, we question our ability to make a difference. Bombarded by one celebrity help-the-world-athon after another, we shrug our shoulders in futility and do absolutely nothing. . . . But what if we did. . . .Something?"

The book is She Did What She Could by Elisa Morgan. She focuses on Mark 14:3-9 and the story of a woman who pours her jar of perfume on Jesus. Some present found this extravagance wasteful and unnecessary. However, Jesus said, "She did what she could." (vs. 8) and that her story would be told in connection with the gospel throughout the world. (vs. 9). (Sidenote: there are actually two stories of women anointing Jesus in the gospel - I always thought it was just one! The other specifically calls the woman one who had a lived a sinful life and the pharisees object to her personally - not just the cost of the oil. We're talking about the first story though)

So, the book focuses on what the author feels God taught her through that story, and more specifically, through that one phrase - "She did what she could." I just want to summarize a few things that really stood out to me.

The focus on the word "what." It doesn't say she did all she could. Yes, there are biblical examples that support the "all" philosophy - where we are called to give our last cent or to keep going even when our strength is gone. But - in this case - in this instance - we don't know if she gave all. She could have - but Jesus did not make that distinction. He says "what" she could. However she arrived at that decision - it was accepted and honored. It was not less-than-enough. Her what was enough. A quote from the book: "The element of faith comes into play here. My 'what' may not look like much to me. It may seem puny. It may look like no big deal, as if it couldn't make a dent. But when I put my 'what' in Jesus' hands, it becomes enough." (56)

It's easy to get caught up in whatever your passion is regarding social justice. There are so many areas to choose. Hungry people in your community. Hungry people on another continent. Abortion. People sold into the human trafficking industry. Disease. Malnutrition. Homelessness. Poverty. The lack of clean drinking water. Genocides. Oppressive governments. Prejudices. Discrimination.

I find that sometimes I feel guilty for not having strong feelings for all of these. Yes, they are all heart-wrenching. But I sometimes feel that I only have so much empathy that I can extend. I can only seek to educate myself and the world about so much. I can only give to so many places. And, sadly, I admit, my reaction to all this overwhelming need is initially just to stop. If I can't fix it all - why try? I remember shortly after the time that Katrina hit, followed by the Tsunami in Asia, and I believe there were a few other natural disasters around the same time - I read something about how our mass communication has overwhelmed us. 50 years ago it would've taken us weeks to get that info, we may have never seen photos or heard stories, it would've taken much longer to get supplies and people to the locations to help. Now - we know about tragedy upon tragedy in real-time. We can watch live satellite feeds. Hear the stories. See the faces. Our money can be instantaneously transferred to aid organizations. We can hop on planes and make it there to help in a relatively short period of time. But, we can't do it all. So, we get overwhelmed with the need.

That is why the "She Did What She Could" idea so profoundly hit me. It's something that's been on my mind since those tragedies I mentioned above and not knowing how to help. If I just focus on what I can do - if I focus on being sensitive to exactly what my "what" is - knowing when it's my last two cents and when it's not - then I'll know I've done my part. I'll know that no matter how great or small what I could do is - that it's valued - that it's part of furthering the name of Jesus Christ. And then, I have to be ok with that. I have to not feel guilty that I couldn't do more. It's kind of simple and kind of not. Being able to help a family in need with a little bit is nice - until you feel overwhelmed that you can't fix it all. I guess it's then that I have to remember Who is in charge and have faith that he cares more than I do. That bad things happen to good people, that injustice exists, but that at the end of the day I still believe that God is more than good - and that he will see justice - his justice- delivered one way or another and that to be a part of that - I just need to do what I can.


  1. Thanks for pastong this. I too tend to get overwhelmed with helping. I wrote a Bloop entry about this (kinda) not too long ago. I think it everyone did 'what' they can, then it would help the entire situation tremendously.

  2. I couldn't have read this at a better time. All evening I've been battling my feelings about not being able to "fix" a situation. I just don't have the resources to go all the way in helping out this particular situation. Oh how much God knew I needed the reassurance and wisdom I found in your words.

    Thank you so much for writing this. I am going to look for that book because I really want to read it now.

  3. your dad likes to tell the story about the thousands of [baby]turtles on the beach and how a little boy is going along and tossing one after another back into the ocean. when someone points out how big the task is and asks why does it matter (what little he's doing), he replies it matters to the one that was thrown back into the ocean. i've not quoted verbatim, but you prob get the gist of it. as you've stated...we do what we can. God is the only one who can do it all and he may offer us the opportunity to join him in specific cases. we are only responsible for what we're called to do. "nothing more, nothing less, nothing else"

    good post, nicole.