Sometimes you read something that is all at once beautiful, wise, and states powerfully what you have already discovered to be true. This is how I felt about the following passage that I read last night:
When we find that all that we hope for does not happen, that sometimes the worst things happen, what then? When we discover that our best hopes have been disappointed, what then? Some choose versions of stoicism or cynicism, deciding for very good reasons that “I have had enough.”
But then, with surprising grace, some choose to keep at it, hard as it is—and slowly but surely discover different loves that become part of their different lives. Always and everywhere, they do so understanding that they are making peace with the proximate. With something, even if it is not everything. With something rather than nothing. (Steven Garber, Visions of Vocation [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014], 200.)
If you choose to fight the good fight, if you want to make the world a better place in some way, you must learn to “make peace with the proximate”. In life you may not get the results you want. You probably will not. It may take another lifetime to see your dreams fulfilled, and it is your children who will see that fulfilment, not you. Sometimes you don’t make things better. You may only succeed in making sure things do not get worse. Indeed there will be times when you wonder what difference it will make if you act or do not act, especially if acting comes at a heavy price. Many times you may think, “Why bother?” or, indeed, “I have had enough”.
Somewhere along the way you choose to believe that doing something is better than doing nothing. Somewhere along the way you choose to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Somewhere along the way you “make peace with the proximate”. Somewhere along the way you choose hope.
It will surely help if the Christian story is true. There we are told that when Jesus died on the cross, He absorbed the pain and death of a humankind who in a moment of hubris thought they could live life without God. In doing so, He reversed the brokenness of the universe. The Christian story tells us that though things are still bad, it won’t always be this way; that not only did Jesus die, He rose again from the dead as downpayment and proof that things have finally begun to change. Therefore we can live with the proximate because one day the perfect will come.
I believe the Christian story to be true because, on the weight of the evidence, Jesus did die and rise again. And because I know how things will pan out in the end, I choose hope and am willing to live with the imperfect in the now.
I write this in Penang. Bernice and I are here for my mum. She is on a journey that can conveniently be labelled Alzheimer’s. Her life is not convenient at all. There is so much we wish for her. There is so much more we wish we could do for her. We struggle with guilt and frustration. And then we remind ourselves—we are doing what we can. We make peace with the proximate.
I have many friends who are seeking to make a difference in the world. They are doing many things: shaping souls; shepherding churches; and fighting for truth, justice and compassion in the arenas of politics, education, leadership development, law, creation care, the arts, and in many other key areas of life. I know the odds. I see you spending yourself in deeply sacrificial ways. Sometimes I don’t know how you carry on. I won’t blame you in the least if you said “enough”. I pray that you will find time and space to nurture your soul, to be reminded of how things will turn out in the end, and in the meantime, be at peace with doing what you can.