In addition to the dozens of young adult fiction and fantasy books I grew up reading, I was a big proponent of books that challenged me to live out my spiritual life in an effective way. I can think of many books that shaped my thoughts into this ever-narrowing funnel of be-more, do-more.
Such inspiring and motivating (not to mention terrifying) books had titles like I Would Die for You, The Power of a Positive Teen, and Peace Child. Later on, The Hole in Our Gospel and Same Kind of Different as Me became my battle cries.
Perhaps the book that most drove my anal dissatisfaction with the status quo was a “revolutionary message” that hit the shelves at a pivotal time in my life. Do Hard Things came out when I was fifteen, one of the most angst-y and angry stages of my life. I had just transitioned from a life of homeschooling to a private school almost an hour away. I never felt I was doing enough. I beat myself down at my inadequacies in friendships, my relationship with God, my pitiful attempts at making an impact, and my failure to bring the worldwide church together in unity to accurately portray God’s love.
By all accounts, from a sane person’s perspective, I was trying way too hard.
But my culture, the church, and my own hormonally-charged feelings had me convinced that I wasn’t trying hard enough.
And thus I have lived under this Calling (burden) of being a cherub and a martyr.
I am the culture of WWJD.
I am the culture of advocacy and awareness.
I am the culture of social justice.
I am the culture of making a big difference.
I am the culture of giving it all for God.
Can you relate?
It affects me to this day. As a result, I’m drawn towards doing the hardest things with the biggest potential impact. My most recent example resides in my desire to find a place to volunteer regularly here in Nashville. After many hours of searching and praying, writing pro- con- lists, and trying to match my gifts and passions with the right organization, I thought I had settled on the perfect fit: CASA.
CASA stands for court appointed special advocates. The first time I heard about it, I immediately dismissed it as being too difficult for me. The organization recruits volunteers and puts them through a time-intensive training process in order to prepare them to become court advocates for children who have been abused or neglected. CASAs spend time with their assigned child, his teachers, his parents, his doctor . . . anyone who has made an impact on his life. Taking into account all that they have heard, most of all, the desires of the child, they then prepare a report for the court in order to recommend an appropriate action. All this as they keep up a relationship with the child.
Though initially hesitant towards volunteering for CASA, I realized that I wanted to challenge myself (whenever you hear me say these words, please remind me that what I am actually saying is “I want to willingly walk into an overwhelming situation.”)
I love children. I am drawn to their wonder, their whimsical natures. I am drawn to their unrelenting trust and carefree spirits. Abuse and neglect tarnish the wonder. It bruises their ability to trust. It crumbles their self-worth. It infiltrates every area of their lives like a plague. And my heart’s desperate cry is to give them hope, to give them some sort of constant, a shelter, a voice. Like God has given me. Like Jesus has been my perfect advocate, I want to imitate Him in gratitude.
This is all well and good. But knowing myself, I need to consider my tendency to jump into the biggest challenges without seriously considering the injury to my own well-being. If I do not consider my own emotional health, I could unknowingly put myself in a situation where I am not helping, but hurting.
I read the wrong books as a child. I should have read books like Show More Grace, instead of Do Hard Things. There was an audience for Do Hard Things. There still is. But I am not that audience. By taking up all the creeds and anthems of MUST MAKE A DIFFERENCE, I fed my natural inclination to strain at goals until I snapped.
Maybe you have the same struggle. Maybe you also have intense empathy that drives your thoughts and actions towards unintentional self-harm in the process of trying to help. There are ways to harness your empathy into good. It’s called listening. It’s called knowing when to rest. It’s called choosing a path that is not always the hardest, not always the most effective, and not always the most world-changing.
Don’t kill your desires of making a difference. But don’t be afraid to reign them in, either.
Remember, the Difference-maker is Christ, and our ultimate goal is not to make a difference, but to point to the One who already has.