One frustrating aspect of the modern world is the juxtaposition between our large amount of awareness and our small amount of control. We are confronted, on a daily basis, with so many tragedies that it is difficult not to feel either overwhelmed or (perhaps more often) incrementally numbed. One can respond to only so many human rights and awareness raising campaigns, so many injunctions that it is “up to you” and that if “someone” doesn’t do something, “no-one” will. The anxiety over the fact that there is something wrong in the world does not just extend to the more obvious and senseless suffering, but also to comparatively trivial matters on our own turf – whether it be the politics over which we have very little influence or the institution in which we are but simple pawns. Modern life, it often seems, is far bigger than our capacity to process it.
The tendency to numbness and psychological overload are really the same. The numb are likely those who overload rather quickly. And these twin maladies have twin antidotes. On the one hand, we can re-animate our deadened emotions through the surrogate of spectacle and entertainment. In this, entertainment ceases to be a mode of rest for life and rather becomes life itself. Or we can compensate for our smallness by pretending to be “large” in the mode of self-expression and of asserting our opinion. Show me a prolific CNN commenter or Facebook alarm-raiser and I’ll show you someone who actually feels quite small. The more honorable version of this, of course, is the servant who is burned-out from a job which is far beyond their capacity.
But here’s the thing. We are small. We are very small. Most likely, your circle of influence is smaller than you think. Wisdom is learning that this is just reality. Virtue is to evaluate this as good. We were not designed to process what technology has made so available. We were designed to process the world in small bits and, indeed, to labor in making it reflect God’s own righteousness. In normal circumstances, this will mean doing something that is right in front of your face. And there, ironically, your circle of influence is likely much greater than you think. It is just that the extent of your power for good terminates before the world’s spotlight – in your often overlooked family and neighbors. We have the capacity to love our neighbors in all sorts of ways. This won’t “change the world,” but it will change your neighbor’s world. Such work is small to man but great to God – the penny of the widow.
It is, of course, urgently right to be concerned with our distant neighbors and wrong to ignore them. Some are called to work for them in radical ways. We are all called to sacrifice, to give to, and to pray for them. It is also right, of course, to be concerned with big issues, to strategize, to “organize” (or whatnot), etc. But we are not called to anxiety – which is often rooted in the pretention to control and the illusion of greater understanding than we actually have. We are not called to be bigger than we are. We are called to be still (even while doing), because God ultimately fights our battles (Psalm 46). The fruit of the Spirit is peace. And such peace grounds us in such a manner than we do not need entertainment to inoculate us. And it gives us the humility to recognize that, far from controlling the world, we do not even understand most of it. But He does.
The fruit of such peace, ironically, is a clearer mind with which to strategize and a great capacity to work tirelessly for God’s kingdom. We plant. Another waters. But He causes the growth.