Linked to Neighbors Near and Far
By Carla Foote
Every day I read the world news headlines on my laptop. Once upon a time I would have been unaware of the problems and pain of families around the globe. But now with 24/7 global communications, I peer into their world and am struck by their suffering. As I read about the latest disaster or epidemic, I look around me at the freshly painted walls in my den; I feel warmth coming from the furnace vent and hear the hum of my refrigerator in the next room.
I am acutely aware that hundreds of thousands of people can lose their homes in an instant as the earth shakes. And I am humbled and thankful for the walls that surround me. How can I, as a woman and a mother, make sense of this world and the place I occupy? I’ve always had walls and heat and a roof and a refrigerator … and a whole lot more, while other women and moms live in places where none of these amenities are expected.
Awareness of the wide world around me is simple, because I read the headlines every day. But from awareness to action is another leap. What do I do with my angst about the world, since any small action I do feels inadequate? I want to have a large heart that cares for the world around me – both near and far.
Guilt is the easiest place for me to go with this kind of awareness. Maybe it’s because as a mom, I’m automatically wired for mommy-guilt. I know the job of mothering is way too big for me – I can’t do and be everything I expect of myself. So why not go to guilt in all the other huge aspects of my life?
There are two kinds of guilt. One is “good guilt,” which is what motivates me to confess when I’ve done something wrong. I’m guilty because I told a “small” untruth or violated another person’s trust. But there’s another layer of guilt that stems from a sense of inadequacy. It’s the guilt of omission.
Rather than the guilt of doing an action that’s wrong, it’s the guilt of doing nothing. When the problems in the world seem too big, I feel inadequate to solve them. So I’ll do nothing and feel a vague sense of guilt at my lack of engagement. Voltaire pointed to this kind of guilt when he said, “Every man is guilty of all the good he didn’t do.”
So once I decide my action in the world should not be motivated out of guilt, then do I hunker down and turn my eyes inward, looking only at my own family and their needs? Of course not! Just because guilt isn’t a good motivator, that doesn’t excuse me from involvement in the world.
Actually, there is something I can do – I can love my neighbor. Showing love is a much stronger and more hopeful motivation than guilt. Those of us who are Christian know that Jesus taught us to love our neighbors, but many others espouse this way of life as well.
Loving my neighbor involves neighbors near and far. Since our world has shrunk through communications technology, my neighbors are all over the globe. And I act out of love for my neighbors because that’s what it means to be a woman of influence. I show love to the one near me, in terms of my physical neighborhood. But I also love the one God places near to my heart in my “neighborhood of influence.”
I’m truly inadequate for all the needs in the world today. But I do have a neighbor, and I can be open to letting God enlarge my heart so it’s bigger. Then through his power, I can be adequate to love more and more people, both near and far.
Carla Foote’s world starts in her neighborhood in Denver, Colorado. She has an M.A. in International Studies and is the Director of Communications at MOPS International. Visit her blog at www.urbangardenver.wordpress.com.