Advocacy work, in any area, can be overwhelming. If you have been following the WAVE facebook page recently, you might have too felt overwhelmed by the content there. When you have a project like the Women’s Service Mission which covers a broad range of advocacy issues, the constant stream of issues can be discouraging. You may feel like with so much wrong, how can I possibly make a difference?
In my personal advocacy efforts, I have an awareness of a number of issues that I feel strongly about and that I feel I have a responsibility and/or ability to do something about. Its an interesting position, however, the prioritizing of one issue over another and the decision-making process in choosing which causes to care about, support and work with, while at the same time, needing to maintain a balance in my personal life through fulfilling my responsibilities to those closest to me.
There are times when instead of the fiercely optimistic boy who proclaims “It matters to this one!” as he throws starfish back into the ocean, I feel more like the man on the beach who queries “You can’t save them all so what does it matter?”
And there are times that I wish I could live in the blissful ignorance of not knowing about the scope and scale of human suffering and issues that profoundly impact other children of Heavenly Father, ourselves and our loved ones. It is that knowledge and awareness that spurns us to action and causes us to feel a level of responsibility so to avoid this feeling of being overwhelmed, I would need to go back to a time when I did not know about the problem. Ignorance could still be my excuse or in the words of Sue Monk Kidd,” The truth may set you free, but first it will shatter the safe, sweet way you live.”
On my darker days, I wish I could go back to the safe, sweet way I used to live not knowing what I know. And yet, I sense how wrong that would be.
During Christ’s atonement, he suffered the pains and sorrows of everyone who lives, has lived or will live on this earth. I get a sense of the scope of that when I have my own periods of trail and hardship and I feel I’m going to break under the burden, and then I think of the suffering and abuse that is occurring throughout the world right now. If a woman dies in childbirth every minute, there is a woman right now who is dying as she struggles to give life. Our sisters are being raped, countries are being torn apart by war, our world is being destroyed by corruption and greed. I can’t bear the thought of experiencing for myself that limited amount of suffering for one minute, let alone everyone’s every hurt. I begin to comprehend the Atonement and I truly do stand all amazed on Christ’s ability and power to love every person and have perfect is his understanding into us all.
So in a way, turning away from the suffering of others is setting to naught Christ’s atonement, let alone a violation of baptismal covenants. I cannot find integrity to choose the “safe sweet way I live[d]” for those reasons. Its not an option.
To put it into perspective. I cannot turn from it, but I cannot allow myself to be crushed under the weight of it either. Kind Benjamin offers these words of caution and encouragement:
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order. Mosiah 4:27
In finding what strength I may have, I realize that sometimes I am the snowflake described by Benedictine nun Sister Joan Chittister, “It comes down to how many snowflakes does it take to break a branch? I don’t know, but I want to be there to do my part if I’m a snowflake. Now, I’m a woman. How many women’s voices will it take before we honor the woman’s question? I don’t know. But I am conscious, and therefore I am responsible.”
I can find comfort in knowing that I am doing my part and also know that if I leave the responsibility to someone else, they may make the same decision too, thereby letting all manner of injustice occur with impunity. By sending the letter to my senator, signing a petition, adding my voice, voting, making a donation, I am being that snowflake that I hope will work in concert with the many other snowflakes that are needed to break the branch. To draw on another metaphor, I can be the water droplet that does its part to change the tide.
I had one of my want-to-stick-my-head-in-the-ground days a few days ago. To pull myself out of it, I usually borrow light from someone else for a short while to regain perspective and find the wherewithal to continue working on these important issues. In my case, it was the writings of two LDS women (one here) whom I borrowed from to write this post.
Like in many other instances, our heavenly messengers take the form of the relationships we have as members of the church and as family and friends. By working together, we can draw on one another’s strengths and find the encouragement to carry on.
How do you find the encouragement to stay engaged and optimistic in your advocacy efforts? How do you deal with periods of discouragement?