If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it! If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!
I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve shouted those phrases in exasperation.
Where should I go to school? What kind of job or career should I pursue? How can I give back? Who should I be investing in? Where should I live? What or who should I be focusing on? How can I help others? Who should I spend the rest of my life with?
Most recently for me, I’ve been asking questions as I’ve become increasingly aware of the inequalities and injustices plaguing our world. It’s atrocious and overwhelming and paralyzing all at the same time.
I’m leaving on a trip in a few days to Thailand and Cambodia to learn more about the work that an organization is doing to fight back and help rescue and restore victims of child sex trafficking. As I was talking about this trip, and the related issues of human trafficking, my friend made the following comment:
“It’s horrible, but I feel like I can’t do anything about it. It’s so overwhelming. What can I possibly do?”
As he said it, I saw the compassion in his eyes and heard the genuine care in his voice. And I think that is probably how most of us feel.
My guess is that, to the degree of which you are aware of the atrocities and injustices in our world, you DO care! You DO agree that they are evil, and your heart DOES break for the victims. But like my friend, and like myself most of the time as well, we frequently feel completely helpless to do anything about it.
We’ll look for opportunities to give resources or funds to non-profits who are on the frontlines, sponsor a child, or find opportunities to volunteer in some way. These are all great things, and things we should all continue doing! I know people who are doing incredible things to live sacrificially and help those who can’t help themselves, and I admire those people incredibly.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a bit of a wrestling match with God. As I’ve thought more about the problems of injustice in our world, and as I open my Bible and over and over again come across verses that point to God as a God of justice, and a God who cares for the poor, and a God who deeply loves and cares for the orphans and the least of these, I’ve found that God has been pushing me and challenging me to think about what more I can do to take up the fight.
It started about 6 months ago when I was reading Isaiah 58. In this chapter, Isaiah is calling out the Israelites. The people of Israel are complaining that God has not noticed their fasting or answered their prayers. God responds with a harsh rebuttal that their fasting has been completely misguided: they are going through the motions and only pretending to care about the ways of God, all the while persisting in their wickedness, quarrelling, and exploiting their workers. And then God tells the people of Israel that if they want a guarantee that he will hear and respond to their prayers, a different kind of sacrifice will get his attention:
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will appear quickly; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I…
“If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
This passage in Isaiah, and so many more like it that I have come across in the last few months, keep tugging at my heart. And while I still don’t know what exactly it is that I’m supposed to do, I know that inaction is no longer an option for me.
For lack of knowing what to do, I started reading and searching Scripture and talking to people who are already working against injustice. I watched talks from Christine Caine and Gary Haugen. I read books and articles and started becoming more and more aware of the intricacies and complexities of some of the issues related to injustice. I dipped my toe in a little bit by trying to do a few fundraisers and volunteering for a non-profit. I moved forward with plans for this trip to Thailand and Cambodia. I prayed and kept looking for action steps.
And as I took these steps, even though I didn’t feel like I was taking any real tangible action to make a difference, I still felt deep down like these tiny steps were hugely important. Instead of running away from how hard it was, or returning to complacency, I did what I could. I started educating myself and pressing into this topic.
Too often in my life I’ve been concerned about a topic, but let lack of a clear action step keep me from doing anything. At all. I want the opportunity to change the world handed to me on a silver platter.
I wonder if the world isn’t changed yet because instead of making our own opportunities or figuring it out ourselves, we’re waiting for someone to come along and hand it to us.
And I wonder how different the world might be if we picked a topic we cared about and didn’t wait for someone else to tell us what to do about it, but we decided to start figuring it out for ourselves.
I don’t want all of us to care about victims of human trafficking. I want some of you to care about orphans and foster kids, about at-risk teens and single moms, about victims of abuse and domestic violence, about poverty and clean drinking water, about teenage pregnancies and drug and alcohol addiction, about unreached people groups and illiteracy, about people with disabilities and the homeless, about family and raising healthy kids, about healthy marriages and healthy bodies, about the elderly and the widows, about the persecution of believers and the crisis in the Middle East, about church plants and Bible translation, about discipleship and prayer, about racial tension and gender equality, about justice and truth. I want you to care about your little corner of the world and how the values and ways and love of God can best be lived out in your sphere of influence.
If you believe God is tugging on your heart to care about an issue, but you don’t know where to start, can I suggest you start with Scripture? Can I suggest you start by building your confidence that God is passionate about the very thing you are becoming passionate about? Can I suggest that if you think you’re willing to do the work for a cause you care about, that work might start by educating yourself?
I got tired of not knowing what to do. And so while I still don’t know the solution to problems as big as human trafficking, not knowing is no longer an excuse. I’m going to learn. I’m going to study. I’m going to put in the work, and travel, and talk to people, and figure out what can be done.
“If I knew what I was supposed to do, then I would do it!”
“If someone would tell me what I’m supposed to do, then I’ll get started on it!”
I’ve said these phrases so many times, and I’m tired of using my lack of knowledge as an excuse. In my life, this looks like reading books about justice, having intentional conversations, and leaving for a trip to Thailand and Cambodia to immerse myself in these issues for 2 weeks. It’s not a solution to the problem. But it does get the ball rolling.
And something tells me it will be easier to be ready for the right opportunity when it finally comes along if I’m already in motion.
So if you find yourself asking questions about what to do, or you’re wrestling with what steps you should take, or you feel stuck with where you’re at in life and wondering what exactly it is you’re supposed to be doing, first, let me tell you that I feel your pain. But let me challenge you with this:
What if what you’re supposed to do is put in the work to figure out what you’re supposed to do?
What if what you’re supposed to do is just start working — even if it’s not the perfect solution or situation — because good things come to those who work?
For those of you who are past this stage of figuring out what to do, what advice would you give? What helped you move forward with pursuing your purpose in life?
What are the causes you have found worth fighting for, and what are the tangible action steps you are taking in that direction?
By the way, here are a few book recommendations to get you started:
Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen
Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker