Over the last few weeks, throughout early morning writing sessions, late night socializing, and the swirl of multicolored tasks that make up the in-betweens, my heart has had trouble resting easy. For once, it’s not due to any great dissatisfaction with life. My days tip more toward busyness than boredom, but I’m grateful for the creative luxury of molding my own time, for the daily check-up with my priorities. I’m happy with our family life too and our current balance between stability and excitement. Strong friendships are in the works. Opportunities abound. We can see the light at the end of the credit card statement.
However, my thankfulness and energy buzz have slunk away in shame following each new mention of Haiti. Stories like this and this, not to mention the news reports, aid auctions, and countless pleas for money, forced tragedy into my periphery. Millions without shelter or food or medical supplies… airports blocked, adoptions halted, supplies looted… impulsive relief groups stealing children… the chaos of some trying to do the right thing and others trying just to stay alive compounded with whether I should donate €10 with a text message or buy a cookbook or bid on a painting or empty PayPal’s pockets into any number of beseeching hands… I felt like I was examining calamity through a thousand microscopes.
Around the same time, a friend asked me to read her boss’s new blog exploring social justice issues like human trafficking, burdensome charity, and water allotment. Our church took up a drive to help impoverished leprosy victims in India. Compassion International brought bloggers to Kenya to report on local children’s living conditions and the need for sponsors. I heard the refreshingly-controversial Derek Webb’s “Rich Young Ruler”… and my conscience went into dizzy overdrive.
What am I supposed to do with the whole world’s sorrow at my fingertips?
It’s an honest question. I believe we humans were made to care, deeply, about each other. I see it as part of our divine imprint, the throb of compassion when we see someone in pain, the ability and drive to meet each other’s unique needs. Discomfort over suffering in our world shouldn’t be shrugged off easily; it’s what makes us humane. However, the accessibility of information makes it especially difficult for me to find my place among seven billion wishful thinkers.
Should we stop paying off debt, forget about retirement savings, and send the money to charity? Should we move back to the States where we could make a lot more and live on a lot less? Should we do away with date nights, family vacations, and birthday presents? How can we possibly choose between the desperate situations stippling the globe?
My heart chimes in from time to time to talk my conscience off the ledge. It tells me that unfocused guilt is neither healthy nor helpful. It looks me in the eyes and says that I cannot cure the world and that even if it were possible, my job is not to do so. My heart is convinced that the needs I should be attending to belong to the people already in my life—a refugee mom at church without baby blankets, a lonely landlord eating supper alone, neighbors with health problems, a friend who’s struggling in her marriage, another caught in a messy divorce, yet another mourning the death of her child. Every day, I have opportunities to ease specific burdens, to spread kindness face-to-face.
This strikes me as true religion, every bit as significant as disaster relief for third-world countries. It’s how I can make a positive, lasting difference even with limited resources and my own family to care for, and it feels fundamentally right. So why is my conscience still crouched halfway out a windowsill obsessing about the wide, wounded world that needs a cure?