I love to make a difference. Even more than that, I love it when I know I’m making a difference, sometimes even see my difference-making-skills in action. It makes me feel good about myself, and satisfies that slightly self-indulgent space in my heart that wants to know ‘I’m a good person’.
Buying ‘The Big Issue’ is one of those things. The organisation currently works with around 2,000 homeless and vulnerably housed people across the UK. 50% of the price I pay for a magazine goes directly into the vendor’s pocket. Last year more than £5 million went to vendors, releasing them from a dependence on hand-outs and providing an alternative to begging. My £2.50 is a small thing that makes a big difference.
But not all of my difference-making efforts feel like this one. I’m also trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I’m eating less meat, fasting from buying clothes and trying to fix more of my belongings before I decide to chuck them out and get new ones. Then I read this quote from Bill McKibben, a world renowned environmentalist: ‘Oceans are 30% more acidic than they were 40 years ago. The atmosphere is 4% more wet than 40 years ago because warm air holds more water than cold air. That means more deluge and downpour in wet areas and more dryness in dry areas. So we’re seeing more destructive mega floods and storms, increasing thunderstorms, and increasing lightning strikes.’ I don’t feel I’m making any impact! I might as well just have steak for dinner tonight, right?
You see, most of the time, I am motivated because my actions have an impact. But what happens when I can’t see the difference I’m making? I may never know whether my efforts to reduce climate change will ever come to anything… so should I stop? The answer lies behind my motivation to act. If it’s simply that I need to satisfy my insatiable desire to know I’m making a concrete, measurable difference, I’ll stop acting very quickly.
But there’s another dimension to why I do what I do, one that goes way beyond whether I make any difference in the world or not. It’s about who I am; who God has called me to be and the person I am becoming. I want to be someone who stands up for compassion, seeks after justice, and speaks out for people in poverty because Jesus called me to take up my cross and follow him. Therefore I act, not because I necessarily have any impact on the world, but because I am a follower of Jesus, and I believe that he has called me to live a different way. I don’t act because my hands can force worldwide change, but because my arms have embraced the pain of the present. I don’t act because my feet can trample out injustice, because they follow in the footprints of their master. I don’t act because there are solutions to be found, but because there are lives that bleed, and this heart that beats in me is the only transfusion I have to offer.