Three cars back from the intersection in the left turn lane, I was trapped by the red light. On the median next to me, a young man looked as if he’d had the fright of his life. And perhaps he had. His sign said, “Need prayer. Single dad about to lose apt. Anything will help.” The pallid shock in his eyes persuaded me to give him $10, the only cash I had with me. Clearly he could not believe his circumstances had come to this.
I admit, I don’t usually give money to guys on corners with cardboard signs. For instance, another guy has been sitting on the curb outside Target for about two years with a quite well-fed dog and a sign. Something makes me suspicious.
After that encounter with the shocked—and grateful—young man, though, I began pondering the weightiness of caring about everything. In addition to possibly homeless men on street corners, I’m supposed to care whether:
• the animals providing protein in my diet were treated humanely before their inevitable end
• technology is changing the brains of school children and impairing their learning
• the chocolate melting in my mouth might contain cocoa harvested by growers who were not paid a fair price, a process that traps them in economic bondage
• the shirt I’m wearing was made by a young girl working 15 hours a day
• there are a disproportionately high number of young black men in prison
• the world has never had as many slaves as it does today—many of them powerless children used for sexual pleasure and never knowing love
• plastic bags take a kazillion years to degrade
• trash in the water is killing fish, or at the very least poisoning a fish I may someday eat
• racism still divides the United States—including churches
• children in America go to bed hungry and go to school hungry
• television, movies and video games immunize us against the realities of violence
• students are graduating high school without age-appropriate reading and writing skills
• AIDS is orphaning a generation of Africa
• the money I spend going to the movies and dinner with my friends could be a small business loan to a woman in Asia
I could keep going, but the list heavy enough. How am I supposed to care about everything and everybody while I’m scrambling to manage my own life? Or harbor secret guilt that I don’t? There are no 1-2-3 answers. But here’s what I’ve decided to do.
1. Keep God’s kingdom values in front of me. Remind myself frequently that God cares about these things. Just because these horrors and complexities don’t untangle in one fell swoop does not mean God does not care.
2. Keep my heart soft. I may not be able to do anything personally about many of the items on this list, but that does mean I should harden my heart. It does not mean I should regard these injustices as acceptable in God’s eyes.
3. Keep responding. I felt a particular prompt to give that young man my $10. I could easily have talked myself out of it. But I saw his eyes, fear swarming up from his heart through them. I couldn’t pay his rent, but I could do this small thing and perhaps encourage him.
How can I care about everything and everybody? If I define caring as arranging my life so that I never accidentally participate in injustice in its myriad forms, perhaps I can’t. But if I define caring as identifying with the heart of God in the face of a particular injustice and responding to the Spirit’s particular nudges, I can do that much.