When you dive into ministry or service as a wide-eyed, idealistic, fiery newcomer there are some things for which you can never be prepared. The depth of hurt and the level of injustice there is to overcome in our world is something you can know about in theory, however, until you find yourself stationed at the front lines battling against it day after day, it is not really real. Statistics remain flat on a page until they are fleshed out with faces and stories. And once you are struck with the enormity of it all, it can be overwhelming. Everyone will at some point reach a moment when it seems like too much. There are too many starving children, too many homeless on the streets, too many suffering from curable diseases, too many oppressed by government or media, too many lacking proper education…sometimes it seems as if there is simply too much darkness in the world to overcome. Nagging questions begin to creep into the back of your mind: Why bother? Am I really making a difference? What can one person do anyway?
I am not immune to these feelings of defeat. I have found myself at a loss meeting a man who grew up in an abusive home and has been on the street since he was a teenager. I have held back tears hearing about an addiction that warps a normally exuberant soul I admire into a dismal individual lacking his true spark. I have struggled to comprehend how a six year old can already be so full of anger because of his unfortunate situation at home that he lashes out, distancing himself from his small, confused classmates. It is simple to slip on cynicism like a coat of armor. It is a clever form of self-preservation. It takes little effort and personal investment to look out into the world and see all that is wrong. So, are we to simply give up because of the enormity of it all?
I don’t think so.
Budding beneath the blanket of darkness in our world there is hope. It takes a bit more time and effort to locate, but believe me it is there and it shines brilliantly. It is present in the college groups sacrificing their winter break to build stairs and replace doors with Habitat for Humanity. It exists in the volunteers packaging food boxes and folding clothes at the Crisis Center on their day off. It pervades the hearts of those who have made serving the city of Asheville their career, regardless of the undocumented hours of overtime.
My mind wanders toward a favorite scene of mine from Lord of the Rings. It comes in a moment that is seemingly hopeless for two adventuring hobbits:
Sam: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.”
Frodo: “What are we holding onto, Sam?”
Sam: “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.”
Sometimes, when things are at their worst, hope seems naïve. It seems small and inconsequential in the face of all that must be done. But I have learned that this could not be farther from the truth. Hope is huge. Small moments of victory, love, support, strength, and selflessness in the face of adversity keep hope alive and cast a light that can be seen for miles. I for one plan to keep fighting for the good that I know is still present in a broken world. And I hope that you will do the same.