I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed. There’s so much I want to see and do. I want to make an impact with my life, and my imagination wanders far beyond the limits of my own capacity to make change. My dreams are way bigger than my ability to make them reality.
Despite my ambition, it’s only a remarkably tiny slice of life where I can really hope to have any positive impact. It’s the love I show, the work I do, the responsibility I take for my own life, and for being available to others in service.
There are no guarantees. I can’t be sure that things will turn out alright. I struggle to even sort myself out, so fixing other people is totally beyond my reach. The best I can hope for is to do the work that God puts right in front of me, each and every day. I don’t get to control outcomes, just my response to what the world throws at me.
I know this won’t sit well with a lot of folks. It doesn’t sit well with me, to be quite honest. It sounds so passive and fatalistic, doesn’t it? The idea that the best I can do is to respond well to the way the world is?
I was raised in America, and a big part of what makes America great is our conviction that we can do anything we put our minds to. It’s that can-do attitude that says that nothing should be taken for granted. We don’t have to accept anything simply because it is. Rules were made to be broken. There’s always a possibility for change. We can disrupt inefficient, unjust, and ugly systems in order to pave the way for something more wonderful.
I want to believe that. The American spirit speaks to my own sense of optimism and ambition. But in my experience it’s also a quick road to burnout and depression.
Because life just doesn’t work like that. When I push, the world doesn’t simply yield to my desire for change. This world, and the countless people and systems that inhabit it, are what they are. They’re not changing just because I say so.
Recognizing this fact doesn’t leave me powerless, it doesn’t make me a victim of life and the world, but it does inform where I need to be putting my energy. There is just a tiny slice of this universe where I can effectively exercise influence, make a difference, and see positive change happen. That’s where I need to put my focus and imagination.
These are the spheres of influence where I can truly make a difference: The work and relationships that are right in front of me; the little bit of air, land, and water that I am given to care for; the dignity of spirit that I am invited to carry in my body, regardless of how anyone treats me.
My job is to radiate love like a radio tower, not to concern myself with how far the signal reaches. I’m invited to live a humble faith, expressed in simple acts of dedication, generosity, and truthfulness. My life can speak volumes about the Creator when I release my need to control the world and allow myself to be controlled by One greater than myself.
This isn’t what I imagined I would be when I grew up. It’s not the kind of heroism that I was taught to aspire to. But it sure beats the life of stress, burnout, and despair that comes when I try to bite off more than I’ve been given to chew.
So when I’m feeling trapped, exhausted, burnt out, and angry, I have to ask myself: What am I carrying that isn’t mine to bear? Who am I trying to fix, when only God can speak to their heart? What is the work that God has placed right in front of me today? That’s where I’m going to find joy.