Oh, man. All I can say is, oh, man. (I’m trying to keep it G-rated). I saw this today, and it’s reminded me of so much that I’m far too quick to forget. It’s amazing how one frame of a cartoon can say so much, while seeming to say so little.
All at once, I started thinking wildly divergent thoughts: the aforementioned “oh, man”, the “Wowie, that’s incredible”, and an “I need to get this out there. Too many people just don’t seem to care”, and finally, “How much do I care, really?”
I saw this as an opportunity to get this out there, and in doing so, reexamine my commitment to “the least of these” (see Matthew 25:31-46). It made me grateful, first of all, that I have the means to sponsor children through Compassion International, and to go to a church that is actively involved in serving the needs of the underresourced, both locally and around the world. It has reminded me to continue seeking God’s direction for what He might have me do to be even more involved in serving the needs of the world.
After all, I guess I was set-up to see this. As I was on the bus today, I saw two radically different signs on the side of the road. One, for a church, said, “Feeling empty? Get a free fill-up here every Sunday”. The next one, for a local police department, said, “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. One sign appealed to people’s selfcenteredness, the other, to the desire to make an impact beyond oneself.
Later on, at church, the pastor mentioned that one of the signs of being truly born again is a willingness to engage joyfully with the needs of the world (not his words, but that was his point). In thinking about his words, I understood that the chance God gives us to work on behalf of the poor is really a chance to join Him in the work of redeeming the suffering that exists in our world, and through doing so, share the Gospel. As a Christian, I understand that there is no higher calling than that.
Contrast that to the rampant narcissism in our society, and I see just how high the calling really is. I flashed back through the day to something I saw that made me want to throw up. A woman was in the drive-up where I work, and I was outside taking oders, and encountered her. She was driving an obviously upscale SUV (I won’t mention the brand name), there was a designer handbag on the seat next to her, and she was quite well-dressed. On the license plates: ILIV4ME. The frames of her plates: Yield to the princess.
I could tell I was in for a rough encounter (Father, forgive me for judging her. She’s a precious daughter of Yours, even though it might seem like her priorities are compleletely out of whack!), and I think I was right. She was really whiny, not bothering to say please or thank you. In fact, every item she ordered started with the phrase “I need”. It started to sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. I wanted to say, “Hey, princess. Shove the tiara where the sun doesn’t shine. I can tell by looking at you that you are OBVIOUSLY not in need, so stop saying “I need”. You have more than you need. You WANT this stuff, that’s all!”
It drove me nuts! But a couple weeks later, I realize that some of that’s about my own misplaced priorities, and the part of me that thinks that such a life of luxury and ease is the cat’s meow, and the part of me that envies those with that life. On further reflection, I understand that such a life isn’t as easy as it might seem. Hiding behind the facade might be rampant debt, sickness, family dissolution, marital conflict, you name it. Pain doesn’t just visit the poor, I reflected.
But the truth of the matter is that the kind of pain that visits the poor often hurts worse, since they are often struggling simply to survive, to say nothing of dealing with the emotions associated with that struggle. It’s what I saw in the eyes of the kids in the cartoon. Sure, we were all entranced by the boy in the balloon story: would he live? Would he die? Where WAS he, anyway?
Yet we don’t seem to think for any reason about those thousands of children who WILL die of preventable causes, those who will go to bed hungry tonight. It seems beyond us, but it’s not. It is my hope that reading this challenges you to action, to find a cause you care about and throw yourself into it. Need next steps? Contact your house of worship and test whatever connections they might have. Get educated on the issues. I recommend a couple books: Richard Stearns’s The Hole in Our Gospel (from a Christian perspective) and Gary Haugen’s Just Courage. Check your local library for information they might have as well. Then get out there and do it! You might make some mistakes, and not find what you’re truly called to do right away, but the worst you can ever do is to make a positive impact on the life of someone in need. That’s the best kind of mistake to make.