Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” ~ Anne Lamott
Sometimes when I take a step back to assess what I write about I worry that it might seem or even be self-serving. And there may be an initial phase (how long it lasts is individual) of being focused on self-care as a kind of detox. In 12 step teaching the progression is from hurting to healing to helping. So the helping part is critical, but there should be some foundational healing first to be able to successfully reach others. I think of the lighthouse, which has been a very important symbol for me this year. If we really imagine what would happen if the lighthouse reacted to every ship that were in trouble by unmooring itself to go toward the person or persons in need of rescue, it seems crazy, doesn’t it? But that is what so many of us do in our attempts to be good people.
Having compassion is an integral part of any religious belief system and of just being a decent human being. But there is a huge difference between ACTING on our values, and REACTING to every need out there in a frenetic and frankly less than helpful way. I do not have any easy answers on how to identify which causes, missions or individuals to support. Some situations are more pressing than others such as natural disasters, environmental issues or the current immigration/refugee issue. In those cases where time is of the essence and you would like to help, find a way to get involved that is within the scope of what you can do. Do your homework on the healthiest charities that are already on the ground helping. If it is within possibility to join the effort physically, make sure that your efforts match up with what is needed. When our area was hit by hurricane Florence last year, I did not offer to rebuild houses, as I had a younger child who could not be on site with me. Instead, I helped do behind the scenes admin work for an established organization as well visiting some bilingual communities where my Spanish degree could be put to use.
It might be for a time necessary to stop being involved in causes so that you can begin to heal yourself and do some deep listening. It is my experience that eventually your vocation will become more clear and will stem from a more purposeful and truly compassionate place. I also think it is very important to (as much as one can) not be motivated by group think or what everyone else is saying/doing/feeling about any certain topic or cause. If you have to, do a fast from social media and the internet in general so you can think your own thoughts and do your own discerning through prayer, meditation, or your own process.
A personal example of discernment in outreach is my family’s longtime work with a local ministry. I am an extreme introvert and have discovered the hard way that it is more beneficial for me to do behind the scenes work than be “out front,” so to speak. For the first few years I forced myself to fill the more social roles and I really hated it. I dreaded our “day” each month and stepped away from volunteering for a few months. When I went back, it was in a more hidden role which is a much better fit. I am happy to serve in my small way and it works better for the organization too, I think.
None of what I am saying is revolutionary, but minimizing online distractions has been a huge part of my healing process. I didn’t realize how much everyone else was doing my thinking for me. I do recommend Cal NewPort’s Digital Minimalism and Heather Havrilesky’s What if This Were Enough? as great resources on learning to own our brains again. I have only read an excerpt of the latter provided through my membership to Lesley Austin’s very consoling and enlightening Wisteria and Sunshine community.
May we all move toward greater clarity in love toward others and ourselves.