“The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Is. 58:11),
1. the quality of being futile; ineffectiveness; uselessness.
2. a trifle or frivolity: the large collection of futilities that clutter our minds.
A homeless person stands on the side of the road with a sign that says “will work for food.” Behind him are many other homeless people hanging about or sleeping in their sleeping bags. You think to yourself, I could stop and give him a dollar, but what would it do to solve the overall problem of homelessness?
Yet another 17 year old boy is gunned down in a neighborhood, with no witnesses because everyone is afraid to come forward. Crime is too big of a problem; the police department doesn’t seem to be able to get a handle on it, so what could I possibly do?
A group of homeless youth are huddled together in an abandoned building. It’s freezing outside. They light a fire to keep warm and fall asleep. The fire goes out of control, burning down the house and killing all 8 of them. What could I have done? I didn’t know they were there, and even if I did, I can’t invite 8 strangers to sleep in my house.
Pelicans, turtles and other wildlife are covered in oil, dying. The Louisiana tourism industry is being affected – people may be afraid to eat our seafood. There is oil coating our shores. And on top of that, our borders are constantly eroding, and if we continue at this pace the Gulf may someday reach New Orleans. How can I help save our wetlands and our wildlife? It isn’t as though I have time to grab a mop and run to the shore to start cleaning. What can I do?
When we look at these problems, they seem overwhelming. We think that we have no control over what is happening, and further, that things are only getting worse and worse.
We have two ways of responding when we see these kinds of suffering: We can be overwhelmed, thinking that things are beyond our control and unfixable. Or, we can see opportunities…opportunities to serve, to encourage, to love and to help.
In other words, we can experience feelings of futility, or feelings of hope. It’s our choice.
Societal problems have been with us since Adam and Eve were sent out from the Garden of Eden after they ate the forbidden fruit. Since that time, we’ve faced poverty, disease, crime, cruelty, the plague, hurricanes, earthquakes, drought and famine, tsunamis – the problems have seemed endless. But in each case, we have overcome.
Our history shows that no matter how bad things have been, humanity has prevailed. Why? Because along the way there have been caring people who stepped up to help ease the suffering of others. Doctors risked contagious infection to treat people during epidemics; people fought wars to free the oppressed; scientists conducted research and created vaccinations and cures from diseases; people have donated millions to causes like the Red Cross when catastrophes have occurred. Mothers have cared for their children, bringing them up with love, and people have continued to spread the Good News of the Gospel. There are always crises going on, but things always do get better. Think of New Orleans after Katrina. Many people thought our city was a lost cause, but here it is, almost 6 years later, still with problems, yes, but also flourishing and improving every day.
It’s easy to feel discouraged when we see so many needs out there, but what if we substitute that feeling of discouragement for one of opportunity? After all, for the most part our world is a wonderful place, full of kind people, beautiful art and music, flowers and scenery. Bad things do happen to all of us, but we deal with them – sometimes through support from family or friends, sometimes through prayer, or sometimes time heals us. Look back on some of the worst things that you have experienced in your life – did you think at that time that you would never survive whatever it was? But you did. We have a spirit of hope within us that sees us through our worst of times. We may not know it’s there in our darkest hour, but it is there. We overcome. God said: “You wearied yourself by such going about, but you would not say, ‘It is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, and so you did not faint.” (Is. 57:10). God is telling us that He is always with us, helping us through all things.
When we see other people suffering, we can remember that God made those people too, and they are also equipped with the same coping mechanisms that we have inside of us. They still have the ability to be healed and to live productive and blessed lives. But they may have lost their way for one reason or another, so they need an extra helping hand to bring them back onto the road that God has set for them. This is where we come in, to offer our strength and power to them, just as God has done for us when we were down. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32. These are the words of Jesus Christ, who gives all of us who serve Him this strength – He lifts us up so we in turn can lift up others.
Instead of futility, there is hope. And that hope is us – you and me. We have the power to change someone’s life. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, beacons of His light. I find that God has designed us for serving others. The more we reach out to right some wrongs, to feed the hungry, or to clean our environment, the more God revives our spirit. There is no blessing like the blessing of knowing that you are offering God’s love and peace to others. It should be our mission to always try to add more blessings to this world than we receive. But then we discover something: the blessings we receive always outnumber the services we provide! “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Col. 2:6-7. It’s an amazing and beautiful cycle, created by God, to keep us growing and strengthened in our faith so that we can spread love and hope everywhere we go.