Perfectionism Does Not Change the World

Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old teenager, carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders for the adults who refuse to. A 16-year old girl, addressing the UN. In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos she said:

“I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act…I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”1

When I look out at this frightening global landscape, I desperately want to see change. But when I see the incredible people who are stepping up to the plate, dedicating their lives to taking on the world, sometimes it’s hard for me to see how I can even be a part of that. I don’t feel like I’m that strong, or smart, or eloquent, or dedicated. Sometimes, when I think about it all too much, I feel like I can barely get out of bed in the morning. It’s overwhelming. What can one person really do?

I believe I am not the only one who has those overbearing feelings from time to time. It can be anything from demotivating to debilitating to feel like your actions don’t matter as much as you wish they did. It can make you feel powerless and question the meaning and purpose of your life.

You make a difference

At a time when we are bombarded with bad news and might feel helpless in the face of it all, I found these words, written on a sign at the climate strike, particularly impactful.

You can’t get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. – Jane Goodall

As I wrestled with this quote, I realized that they carry an important truth. It’s easy to get so overwhelmed by the big picture that we minimize the importance of what’s going on right around us. There’s the world in its entirety, and then there’s our world – everything that we see and touch and feel; our own experience of this life. And here in our day-to-day living, each choice, each interaction, everything we ever do – it matters.

Here is what I need to remind myself of: we actually don’t have to save the world. That’s God’s job. His work is to redeem all of creation to Himself and to His goodness. But God wants to do His work with us, and that means that our lives matter. Our choices, and the way we live our lives, matter.

It’s funny and beautiful to me that so many people who don’t identify as Christians still seem to understand this truth in some way. It’s like it’s written in our DNA as human beings, woven into creation.

Making small steps is better than perfection

One of my good friends, who has set foot in a church maybe once in her lifetime, is a relentless environmental activist, feminist, and generally wonderful woman. She writes a lot of good things, but one of my favourites is a recent post about how striving for perfection in activism and social consciousness can actually do more harm than good. Because as flawed human beings, perfection is unattainable. Rather than becoming discouraged and giving up because we will never be perfect, we can still strive to be better. She writes, “for me, sustainability means doing my best within my means to live in alignment with my values.”

This is such a worthy goal and an encouraging perspective. All these smaller pieces, like shopping ethically, recycling, voting, reducing waste, donating to a charity – they might seem small and relatively insignificant, but they are actually so important. Each one is another chance to live with the well-being of others in mind. It is a chance to live with God’s heart for the world in mind. Every day, we can wake up and choose to do what we can to make the world better. Making a conscious effort to cut down your carbon footprint is a way of living with the future generation in mind. Choosing to shop at thrift stores or from ethical clothing companies is a way of refusing to benefit from child labour and unsafe working conditions. Speaking out against inequality, intolerance, and bigotry is a way of showing vulnerable members of your community that you care. 

Aligning ourselves with God’s goodness

All of these things involve some personal sacrifice. But in all of these things, as we consider the needs of others and act accordingly, we are aligning ourselves more closely with God’s goodness. As followers of Jesus, who taught us to love one another as ourselves, we are living our lives more and more in alignment with our values. It leads to living a whole and healthy life. In many ways, all these good things that you can do are just as important for you as they are for those around you.

Here’s the thing. The world isn’t going to change overnight. Evil exists, humans are flawed, and there are so many people in the world who will still do wrong. But we cannot control the actions of others; we can only control our own. For me, it always comes back to this: in the face of all that is wrong in the world, when we are exhausted and overwhelmed by it all, we are commanded simply to live justly and mercifully as we walk with our God.

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