Essay

What is the Sense of Our Small Effort?

by Jocelyn

“The sense of futility is one of the greatest evils of the day…People say, “What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?” They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them, as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.”  –Dorothy Day

There are days when I feel overwhelmed by the vastness of the problems in this world, and I feel powerless to affect them in any way. The shocking rates of hunger and preventable illness around the world, the lack of access to clean water or fair wages, the incomparable consumption of my own culture, the cruel treatment of animals, workers, and the earth by our bloated food system – how can I begin to address these massive issues with my little life?

I don’t know what to do, so I bake muffins. Because I know that when I mix flour, baking powder, salt, spices, honey, eggs, oil, and milk, something good will be created.

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the hatred and persecution that plague the lives of so many people around the world. Oppressive governments, corrupt soldiers, human traffickers, mass shooters fill the pages of our newspapers. Children go without access to basic necessities in neighborhoods not far from my house. Many children reach middle school or higher without the ability to read. Cycles of poverty, abuse, and addiction rob people of safety, dignity, and peace on a daily – hourly – basis. What can I do that will make a difference in these vast, systemic problems?

I don’t know what to do, so I invite friends over for a shared dinner. Because I know that when we eat together, when we pray over our food, when we share our burdens and our joys, when we laugh at a baby’s newest tricks and pass plates of homemade bread, that we are making peace in some small way.

It doesn’t help anything for me to become paralyzed by the overwhelming circumstances of the world. I am daily releasing the savior complex that I have learned by being white, middle class, and educated in America. I cannot save the world. I am not enough. I am not God. And nothing gets better if I remain overwhelmed and still and quiet and alone. I must do things. But what?

I honestly don’t know the answer. Or maybe better: I don’t think there is just one answer. It’s a journey, a process, of becoming better, more aware, more concerned, more generous, more loving to other people and to the creation.

It’s funny to me that the idea of process should feel like such a revelation to me. I am a theater director. Process is what I do. Nothing in theater is created quickly. It takes time, effort, collaboration, passion, focus, and vision. It takes a team of people working together toward a shared goal to create anything worthwhile. And honestly, most of the artistry in theater takes place during the process rather than the performance. Sure, the performance is the culmination of the art, but the daily rehearsals and meetings and set building and costume designing is where the production is refined and made beautiful.

I think the approach is similar to any of these overwhelming world problems – a group of people doing the best they can, with a shared vision and hearts full of love, listening, serving, praying, and making daily choices based on shared convictions. We can do big things, like protest, lobby, and advocate, raise awareness through media and large-scale public events. But it’s not just the big things that matter.

So I make muffins, using the best ingredients I can – local and organic, if possible, with eggs and milk from places where I trust the animals are being treated humanely and the workers are being paid fair wages. I share food with neighbors and friends. I smile. I treat people with dignity and respect. I turn off the lights and unplug electronics and try not to waste water. I listen to stories. I volunteer. I fail at these pursuits daily. I keep trying. Because I don’t know what else to do. It’s a process, a daily refining, a trust that every little bit makes a small difference, a hope that the small, daily things will add up to something more beautiful over time.

JocelynWiebe Jocelyn is a freelance theater director in Columbus, Ohio. She loves cooking real food vegetarian meals for friends and family. She is married to Mark, who makes the best homemade pies and corn tortillas around. When she isn’t at the theater, she can be found working part-time in a neighborhood bakery, working in her container garden, preserving fruits and veggies, going for walks, reading, or watching movies with Mark. 

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4 thoughts on “What is the Sense of Our Small Effort?

  1. Pingback: In Praise of Small Efforts | Love Is What You Do

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  4. I love this! All winter I’ve been baking oatmeal bread – and you’ve written exactly why I’ve been making oatmeal bread…your last words say it for me: “Because I don’t know what else to do. It’s a process, a daily refining, a trust that every little bit makes a small difference,”

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