It’s easy to remember to support those in need at Christmas — it is a time when our hearts are filled with a spirit of compassion and generosity. But what about the rest of the year? If we’re called to support people on the margins during the holidays, why should we only think about doing it during the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s?
People living in poverty have needs that exist year-round. Neither the despair of the homeless nor the anguish of the hungry are seasonal struggles, but it can (admittedly) be hard to remember this when school is out and the sun is warm.
So how do we stay attuned to the needs of those around us in seasons when generosity isn’t top-of-mind? How can we strive for a greater sense of awareness and solidarity? It requires intentionality.
We keep our eyes, our ears, our minds, and (most importantly) our hearts open. We listen to the news. We do more than just skim the headlines about what is happening in our communities and in the world around us. We cast our to-do lists aside and sit with a friend who needs our company.
And here comes the really critical part: we pay attention to what breaks our heart, and we run right toward it. We do not turn back, and we do not look away. The voice inside of us that cries out at injustice is God’s, and if we want to grow in love, we need to listen to it.
If this seems revolutionary, it’s because it is. We live in a society that is so profoundly averse to pain and suffering of any kind that we will do almost anything to avoid it. Yet, as Melinda Gates tells us in her fiercely brilliant book The Moment of Lift, “all of us have to let our hearts break; it’s the price of being present to someone who is suffering.”
To walk with someone in their suffering, to really accompany them on the path, we need to experience some of it ourselves. This kind of work cannot be done from a distance. It can’t be done at arms’ length. It requires us to visit (and often dwell) in places far removed from our comfort zones.
Glennon Doyle has similarly dedicated much of her life to exploring the ways we can use heartbreak as our creative fuel to move us to collective action. She gently reminds us that “we must get familiar with heartbreak, become curious about it, because there we will find essential clues for solving the mystery of who we were intended to be.” It is in that pain where we find our purpose.
As a mother, I realize that I have been fortunate enough to be able to provide my children with basic essentials like formula and diapers. I also realize that many other parents cannot provide these essentials. This — the inability to care for one’s children despite the deepest human desire to do so — is what breaks my heart. It’s why I have volunteered my time at a local organization devoted to helping families in crisis pregnancies.
What breaks your heart is not necessarily going to be the same thing that breaks mine. And that’s okay, because God did not create us all with the same purpose in mind. How boring would it be if He did! God’s plans are far bolder than we can even imagine.
For you, it might be something entirely different that stirs your sense of compassion. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the plight of migrants or the desire to reduce gun violence in our nation — what matters is that you do something about it. But how?
Volunteer your time
So many wonderful organizations are woefully understaffed. The needs are seemingly endless and there simply aren’t enough hands to help. Perhaps your job allows you to set your own schedule or work flexible hours. Even if you work a traditional 9-to-5, maybe you have a few nights or weekends open on your calendar. Whether it’s volunteering weekly or as your schedule permits, you can be confident you’re making a real difference in the lives of others by sharing your time through service.
Donate your money
In addition to volunteers, financial support is another resource that can further the mission of nonprofit organizations. There are many worthwhile causes, and budget constraints often force people to choose where they direct their money. If you happen to have a little extra cash at the end of the month or you’re the recipient of a generous gift, consider making a donation to an organization that aligns with your priorities or serves a population to which you feel especially connected. You’ll experience the satisfaction of using your blessings to help bless others.
Utilize social media
If you find yourself without access to spare time or spare money, think about leveraging your social media account. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — they can all be used to do good. The next time you read a news article that breaks your heart or stumble upon a fundraiser for a great cause, post it to your account. Be an advocate. Resist the urge to only post about the good things in your life, and engage with the stuff of which real life is made. You’ll make connections with others this way and perhaps inspire in them a desire to do the same. At the very least, you’ll have raised awareness about an issue that concerns you.
Prayer is one of the most powerful gifts we’ve been given, and it is absolutely free. Even if this isn’t something you normally do, it requires zero previous knowledge or experience. So the next time something breaks your heart, offer it up. Take the sorrow around you, and give it to God. He can take it, I promise you.
A dear friend recently told me that when we help others walk the path of suffering, the pain we take upon our bodies can sometimes seem too much to bear. We can easily become weighed down by the worries of the world. But we were never meant to carry these burdens alone, so we lift our arms and send them upward. With outstretched hands, we find that what we receive in return is the love needed to continue the journey alongside our brothers and sisters. No matter the trouble, prayer can (and will) sustain you.
Whichever way you choose to contribute, you will no doubt have a meaningful impact. All you have to do is follow your heartbreak. And while the troubles of the world can seem overwhelming and the challenges insurmountable, remember this: We don’t have to do everything, but we can all do something.