More questions from the teenage theologians at Mercy High School in Middletown, Connecticut.
God these kids are good!
Q: How do we find the strength to keep working to end social injustices when we know that they will never be fully eliminated? Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully answer the questions people send you; as a reader, I really appreciate it!
— from M
A: Thank you, M, for a deep and powerful question. To paraphrase the poet T.S. Eliot, “Trying is all that matters. Everything else is just not our business.” If you just focus on trying to make things better and not on actually making things better, you just might find that you end up actually making things better. Just keep trying.
Another way to keep trying is to keep your focus small. If you judge your work by only looking at the big problem you are trying to solve in the world, you are bound to get depressed. But if you focus on helping one person today and then one person tomorrow and so forth, you can keep hope alive in your heart. One of my favorite stories is from Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Star Thrower.” It has been adapted and this is the version I want to share with people with your question, dear M:
A young man was jogging on a beach after a storm when up ahead he saw an old man bending down and standing up. Coming closer, he saw that the old man was throwing starfish back into the ocean. He asked the old man what he was doing and he said, “Can’t you see? These starfish were stranded on the beach after the storm and I gotta get them back in the water before the sun gets high and dries them out.” The young man laughed at the old man: “You are a fool, old man,” he said. “There are hundreds of starfish stranded on this beach. You can’t get to all of them. What you are doing just doesn’t matter.” The old man bent down, grabbed a starfish, threw it into the safety of the waves and said: “Son, it mattered to that one.”
Another answer is to remember that you are not trying to make things better alone.
Here is a midrash (a story about a story in the Bible) called Partners I wrote in my first book, “Does God Have A Big Toe?” that might give you hope or at least a smile:
Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess?”
So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be . . . just rocks.”
Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will be clouds, and some of this water will be . . . just water.”
Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered,
On some of the rocks God placed growing things and creeping things and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” And God answered:
God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I’m tired now. Please finish up the world for me, really it’s almost done.” But the man and the woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”
“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.”
The man and the woman asked, “What’s a partner?” and God answered, “A partner is someone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.
Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” and God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”
You are God’s partner, M, so keep trying to save some starfish.