Thursday, January 17, 2013

Zero Impact (why it's ok if my life doesn't matter too much)

A tough but persistent measure of value in my life has been this idea of "impact"- both as a Christian and as a graduate of elite(ist) educational institutions. It has placed me under pressure, and generally hasn't been helpful, yet it persists. 

It goes along these lines: What things can I do to have the most (or least, I suppose, in greenhouse gas terms) impact? It's incredibly vague, like the grant Lia and I got when we were 16 to "go and make a difference" in the sun in Southern Italy (poor us).  All I did that time, and in the many opportunities that followed, was change myself, a tiny, tiny bit. But perhaps that was the point.

There are compelling quotes like Ghandi's "be the change you want to see in the world", but my mind goes 700 places: what changes do I want to see? When? How? Why? But what about context? How do I be that change? I think about sustainability a lot, I also think about the health of refugees (my career focus), the homeless people on my street (interactions that highlight the brokenness of our South African, and probably the world), and more than anything, the life of Jesus. 

But day to day, I spend the bulk of my time trying not to be a jerk to my beautiful children. Which is much, much more difficult than living in a tiny house, not wearing deodorant, making jam and bread, and forgoing meat in favor of lentils.

I dream of big things, but most of the time, it's very hard to differentiate the dreams that are mine and those that are beyond me, the dreams that are self-aggrandizing vs. the dreams that are life-giving. I'd like to say that God tells me which is which, but I'm not sure that's always true. I think I get a lot of choice in the matter, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

There's two verses in the Bible that are helpful: One is Luke 17:33: 
If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it. 
The other is Micah 6:8 
(S)He has shown you, O (wo)man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justice, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?"

In these terms, my gran's life and recent death was a beautiful success. Not one without tragedy, but good nonetheless. In these terms, also, it is not clear what I should do day to day, but there's a general orientation that recognizes my smallness and the sense that the ends never justify the means. In some ways Eug, Noah, and Eli are the best barometer of how things are going- If I am doing well loving them, even if my PhD is tanking and I'm eating junk food, then things are good. I know it's more complex and there's self-care and self-actualization and all that (and I'll probably write about that sometime, soon). Sometimes I act as though feeding them really good food and giving hugs is the same as loving, and it's not. Sometimes it's even the opposite. Good love is a pretty ephemeral thing.

Which is to say, all the excitement and ideas I have from week to week may be totally awesome (we dream of farms and adoptions and teaching public health) but the fear that my life will not amount to much is no longer a jarring one. A small life will be very good.

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