I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale, 19th century author and clergyman
The needs of this broken world roll in like waves. Sometimes the tide is low, sometimes it is high, but the waves never stop. The shore longs for stillness, but the waves of needs…they just keep rollin’ in.
I have a friend who teases his family when they are being overly needy. “You have more needs than the children of Ethiopia!” He says this in sarcasm, but seriously there are more needs around us than we can keep up with. (Maybe not more than the children of Ethiopia, but an awful lot.)
I often feel overwhelmed by the waves of needs in the world. Childhood poverty, homelessness, and mental illness to name a few. Then there are “political” needs like protecting our environment, criminal justice reform, and healthcare for the uninsured.
What happens when we are overwhelmed by needs like a child engulfed by waves hitting the shore? Our hearts are tugged as we rightly desire to advocate for our oppressed brothers and sisters, and sometimes we even feel guilty if we are not active in all the things.
Guilt, however, is not what the Lord wants for His children. While He has given us the command to pour ourselves out for others, he also lovingly gives us the freedom (and discernment) to choose where and how we will do that.
We have a moral responsibility to attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters in our communities. The Lord has called us to be culture-changers so these needs are met, but God never asked you to tend to all the things.
The Edward Hale quote above is wisdom to those wanting to meet “more needs than the children of Ethiopia.” You are one person. And while you are an AMAZING person–chosen, set apart and gifted to tend to others’ needs–you are only one person. Overloading your service calendar will leave you frazzled–and quite frankly exhausted–which is not beneficial to those in need or yourself.
The quote is also wisdom for those who have decided there are too many needs, so they’ll just sit this command out. This is an easy lie to fall prey to, because serving takes time and resources you may think you don’t have. Embrace the areas you know God has asked you to serve, knowing He’ll give you everything you need for it!
We can be more faithful and effective servants–not to mention more joy-filled– when we remember that we can not do everything. Likewise, we can pour ourselves out boldly knowing we are called to do something.
Are you attempting to pour yourself out into all the things, and ready to discern where you can serve more joyfully? I have learned from wise mentors and personal experience some ways to go about choosing where and when you’ll serve:
- If you have a family, I believe this is our first responsibility for service. Often we get so busy serving outside the four walls of our home that our family gets left behind. Also, there are plenty of ways for your family to serve together. But if your family is only getting the remnants of you, you may need to rethink how much you are serving outside of the home. Whatever you do, don’t forget those nearest to you have needs, too!
- What gifts has God given you that you love to share with others? When you use those gifts can you tell it flows naturally? Chariots of fire describes it perfectly: you’ll know you are operating in your gift “when you feel God’s pleasure.”
- What personal experience has God put in your path that gives you a burning desire to serve for that cause? Are you a teacher in a poverty-stricken area? Have you experienced needless violence first hand? Your personal story makes serving there a natural fit!
- Will it promote good in a way that honors God…or you? Sometimes we get caught in the tricky trap of self-service. “I’ll do this, then maybe I’ll get that.” A true servant never thinks of their personal gain.
- Lastly, can you use your occupation itself to serve others? Many jobs, by nature of their duties, meet spiritual, emotional and physical needs. But even if you don’t feel your occupation is a “service” job, there are always ways to sneak in love for your fellow man at your 9 to 5.
Comment with ways you know when and where to serve. I’d love to know!