I feel like the Fiddle on the Roof, caught between two conflicting ideas: to act or not to act. This is the question.
Years ago, when I was working in youth ministry, one of my kids was killed in a car accident. He’d been drinking a few days before graduating from high school and was out partying with friends. This particular boy meant a lot to me. He’d shown signs of irresponsible behavior when he was in junior high and his parents were smart enough deal with it rather than bury their heads in the sand. As a result, he ended up becoming a leader among his peers. This devastating event just wasn’t supposed to happen.
I recall sitting in my office after receiving the news about his death. I was young enough to be frightened around grief. I felt helpless as people often do because they don’t know what to say and are afraid of saying something really stupid. It was all about me, you might say. I knew I had to reach out. I forced myself to pick up the phone and dial his home hoping there would be no answer. His mother answered. All I said is, “This is Judy Jeub. I just heard about Danny.” At that point she started talking about her son. I never realized how much grieving people need to talk about their loved ones. I only listened.
Later, Danny’s family came before the church community to thank everyone who stepped up to help them through their grief. As they spoke, I realized that the Youth Minister reaching out was, in their perspective, the Church reaching out. This was an aspect of working for a Church that I hadn’t considered. I would have thought anyone from the community that reached out was the face of the Church. But a grieving family needs something more and I seemed to fit that moreness.
From this experience, I learned that when in doubt, act. Perfectionism be damned. Showing up is what matters. I have learned that once I show up, what is needed will be revealed.
More recently I have learned that sometimes, not acting is the correct response to a tough situation. It is difficult to give you an example as clear cut as the one above because when one does not do something it feels rather like nothing at all. But let me give a couple of thoughts about not acting:
- When we are quick to help someone in need, we sometimes take away their opportunity to help themselves and learn new skills.
- When we are quick to save, we may create a co-dependent situation that is not good for anyone.
- When we are quick to try our hand (or mouth) at peacemaking between warring parties, we often find ourselves in the middle and losing one or both of the parties as friends.
- Our reading of a situation might be totally wrong and acting too quickly might end up solving a problem that doesn’t really exist.
- People sometimes perceive life situations as serious problems when in fact they are just bumps in life’s road. Watching these pass by without fussing might be exactly what a person needs to do.
Just as action can be perceived as the movement of the Holy Spirit, so can non-action. We don’t always know what to do and there is nothing worse than helplessness. My belief is that if love is our motivator, leading will come. Often the leading is simply to pray.