Every day as I drive home from work, I exit the freeway, and I see a homeless woman or man selling newspapers or asking for money on the shoulder of the road right where cars stop at a traffic light before turning right or left. Over the course of our family’s last eight years in Nashville, I’ve felt a variety of contrasting feelings about them and thought a multitude of conflicting thoughts about what I should do for them.
At certain times, I’ve carried snacks for each of them in my car. At other times, I’ve literally mouthed the words, “Get a job!” Neither one is necessarily the right response. But the point is, when I first moved to Nashville I cared about every homeless person with a cardboard sign. Now, after eight years, I don’t. I know that may sound harsh, but hear me out…
Compassion & Outrage
When I first discovered Facebook, I did the same thing. At first, I cared about what everybody posted. I’d comment on a cousin-of-a-college-friend-who-I-last-talked-to-three-years-ago’s post. One time, I even private messaged one of my old roommates about a political post he made. I hadn’t talked to my roommate for two years, and out of the blue, I gave him some unwelcome commentary on his politics. He did not respond well.
I learned a valuable lesson that day. Caring about every Facebook post or Twitter comment makes me engage in outrage instead of engaging in compassion. Outrage can be easily quenched when I lash out at someone I barely know. Compassion helps me care about the people who are hurt and even the people I disagree with. And honestly, I don’t have time to respond with compassion to every Facebook post.
The Capacity to Care
So now if I see something I disagree with on Facebook, I don’t care. In fact, I don’t care about anything on Facebook or Twitter because I’ve realized I don’t have the capacity to care about everything. When I see a fundraiser for a good cause posted to Facebook, I don’t have the capacity care. When I see a celebrity died, I don’t have the capacity to care. And when I see a controversial post, I don’t have the capacity to care.
I don’t care about everything all the time anymore. And… it’s healthy. I’ve slowly learned this hard lesson: If I care about everything, I’ll never be able to really care about anything.If I care about everything, I don't really care about anything. Click To Tweet
While Facebook, Twitter, Google, and a 24/7 news cycle can all be very useful tools, because of my sinful nature, they also tempt me to think I can be an all-knowing being who can be everywhere and care about everything at once. I can’t though. I’m limited. And I’m human.
I used to want to help the homeless, write hit songs, raise a family, volunteer at church, tour full-time as a recording artist, stay in touch with my childhood friends, write a book, travel the world telling people about Jesus, spend two hours in prayer every day, learn how to renovate my house, and go on a date night every week. Doesn’t that sound exhausting? It was. And I found out through burning myself out, I can only do a few of those things at once.
When I tried to do everything, I didn’t do anything well. When I tried to foster deep relationships with everyone, I didn’t foster deep relationships with anyone.
Automobile technology helps me efficiently reduce travel time. Computer technology helps me efficiently reduce paper waste. And my phone helps me efficiently manage tasks and calendars. But nothing can efficiently help me build relationships. And nothing can efficiently help me love my neighbor.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” (NLT)
This is commanded and referenced at least 8 times in Scripture (Lev. 19:18, Matt. 19:19, Matt. 22:39, Mark 12:31, Gal. 5:14, Rom. 13:8-9, James 2:8, Luke 10:27). It’s interesting God doesn’t call us all to keep up with our past high school friends, distant cousins, and random acquaintances. Instead, He calls us to love and look out for the best interests of our neighbors, the people who live and work around us.
Since Feb. 14 of this year, I’ve taken a much needed break from Facebook, Twitter, and Google. And my life has slowed way down. I’ve become more focused, less anxious, and less envious. To be honest, while I was using social media, I was relationally schizophrenic. I’m not exaggerating. I spent too much of my time caring about too many things and keeping in touch with too many people. I also recently realized that loving the national news made me forget to love my neighbor.
While mother Mother Teresa was alive, she occasionally addressed this universal desire to do too much. Mother Teresa was a Catholic nun who spent her life caring for many sick, homeless people while she worked with lepers in Calcutta, IN. Yet she didn’t encourage everyone to join her in Calcutta, volunteer at a church, or go do something great for God. Instead, she said this, “If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family.”
Her advice echoes Jesus’ “Love your neighbor as yourself.” While popular wisdom encourages us to dream big, true wisdom encourages us to start small. While conventional wisdom says, “Go on an international missions trip,” Jesus says, “Love local!”
For me, dreaming big has often helped me escape the responsibility of doing something small. But if I don’t start small by serving the people closest to me, any big ministry, business, or non-profit I start might accomplish some good things, but ultimately, I’ll forget the people I’m serving and treat my daily work as if it’s 8 hours of meaningless tasks I need to do for the organization. I’ll start to treat the people around me as means to my organization’s end, and lose the motivation or soul behind my work.
“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” (Matthew 16:26 NLT)
Honestly, the temptation to start off doing too much and dreaming too big has typically led me to waste time. I’ve tried to create viral videos, tweet viral tweets, and get insta-famous. I’ve also brainstormed big ideas to help homeless people on the side of the highway. Thankfully, my efforts to do something big have all failed.
Instead, this year the Lord has given me an opportunity to do small things: to love my family by spending time with them, to love my wife by working on construction projects, and to love my neighbors by finally meeting them on short walks around our neighborhood.
If I want to love people, I should probably start by asking God to help me love my family and the neighbors around me. If I want to help kids learn how to read, I should probably start reading to my own kids. If I want to help homeless men or women on the side of the highway, I should probably start by helping and getting to know one homeless person.
I can’t care about everyone and everything all the time and not go crazy. But I can care about the people around me. I can love my family and my neighbors.
“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Galatians 5:14 NLT)
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