Who Is Responsible for The World’s Needs?   4 comments

I lived the first 40 years of my life with the assumption that if someone had a need I could meet, I was obligated to meet that need.  No matter how much I gave, I was still being selfish if I had any resources left for myself.  Such a view leads to spiritual and physical self-destruction.  In grad school I knew that 12,000 people a day starve to death (no doubt that figure is higher today), so how could I spend any more than the absolute minimum on my own needs?  If I used resources for myself that would cause one more person to starve, was I not killing them?  Was I less responsible because they were half-way around the world instead of on my doorstep?

With this thought I calculated the cheapest possible way to survive so as to give more money to relief agencies.  Since  tea or coffee had no nutritional value, I thought drinking it was simply a sin… so was jelly on toast (although it was so dry  I used  margarine sparingly, or rather a cheaper margarine substitute, and felt guilty for it).  I must eat nutritionally, for which my mother gave me the simplest advice as I left for grad school , “Eat one green and one red or orange vegetable a day.”  I knew I also needed protein, starch and fruit.  The cheapest fruit was to drink orange juice each morning with a piece of toast (starch).

I prepared my dinner one month at a time.  The cheapest protein was a chicken whole fryer (39 cents a pound), and the cheapest green and orange vegetables were beans and carrots.  At the beginning of the month I would cook one whole fryer, one bag of string beans and one bag of carrots.  I then mixed a bit of each into golf ball size clumps, twisted six into a row inside my used bread bags, and froze them, making a month’s supply.  I would warm one of these up to put on rice each evening when I came home from school.

I saw time as another resource to share, limiting my sleep to a bare minimum.  I lived in Chicago for six years and never visited the famous sites, which seemed an unconscionable waste of time.  But I could not strip myself of every resource, so I lived with a pervasive undertone of guilt for not living on less and giving more.  That person’s need constituted my responsibility, and the needs of the whole world lay before me to meet at whatever cost to myself. 

Something was deeply wrong with this picture. Whose needs am I responsible to meet?  If I shave it down to the bare minimum, I would say I am responsible to meet my spouse’s needs… but is even this true?  Doesn’t my wife have many needs that I cannot fulfill?  After all, no individual has all the spiritual gifts for meeting another’s needs.  The problem lies here–whether I took on the needs of the world or of only one other person, I was still trying to play the role of God, and it was crushing me.

Over time I came to the conclusion that if someone has a need, it is God’s responsibility to meet that need, and he may or may not use me to do it.  He is not dependent on my help.  It is not the other person’s need which constitutes my responsibility, but the invitation of God to become involved (and he does invite, he doesn’t force).  If I choose to live by grace rather than law, then someone else’s need is a potential opportunity rather than an obligation.  But whether or not I get involved (and to what extent), it remains completely God’s responsibility to meet that person’s need.

My own wife must ultimately look to God and depend on him to meet her needs.  If she makes me the final point of responsibility for her needs, then her needs are going to regularly go unmet and she has no recourse.  She is trapped in a life that is unworkable and has no means of escape because she is dependent on me, and I am a flawed creature.  She and I must receive the grace of God for ourselves, either directly or through whatever channel he uses.  We cannot restrict his grace for us to one channel, not even our spouse.  No human relationship was designed to bear such a burden.

Over a long time, I was able to shift the weight of the world (and every individual in it) onto God’s shoulders and off my own.  I still struggle to let the burden go, and tend to blame myself if another person’s needs go unmet, but I now know that to carry such a weight will break me.  I discovered that I can care without taking responsibility, that mourning the loss of another does not require me to jump in and “save” them.  In fact, when I am always in “fix-it” mode, I tend to be distracted from loving and caring, especially if I am pushing myself with obligation rather than letting my involvement flow from a deep settled nest of God’s grace.


Posted September 1, 2011 by janathangrace in Personal, thoughts

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4 responses to “Who Is Responsible for The World’s Needs?

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  1. I can so relate. I came to realize that while my motivation to help others was often good, the reality was that I usually had no idea what that person really needed and that often I caused more harm than good.
    As for God meeting needs, I just wish he’d be a darn sight more forthcoming in answering requests for having needs met.

  2. Thank you for articulating this so well!

  3. I fully empathize! If God does not step in to help, I feel that I must, without regard for my own concerns and needs. It really forces me back to the grace of God in so many ways when I take this alternate approach.

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