In all of my various roles within the church from being an EFY counselor to Elder Quorum President, I have been asked numerous times “What’s the use?” This question is often prefaced with something along the lines of “I’ve been ________ (insert some positive action or deed, like going to church) but lately I’ve noticed _______ (insert negative event or outcome). Does this line of questioning look familiar? If not, you’re probably just being a tad bit delusional as we all have had these moments of doubts or feelings of despair.
It could be something as simple as being nice to someone every day and in turn having them just question your motives. It could be building a multi-million dollar business from scratch just to have your partners turn on you and kick you out of the business. Maybe it’s being a parent trying to show your child the right path just to have them mock you or worse, just completely ignore you altogether? Or maybe you’re a child who is striving to do everything you can to do well at home and at school but your parents are apathetic to your efforts?
There are countless of situations where we put in so much effort to do good or to bring about a positive change in the world just to have the world throw it right back in our face. It’s incredibly frustrating and many times we just want to throw in the towel and say “Fine! I’m done! See what happens when I’m not around!”
A poem that has changed the way I look at challenges like this is from a modified version of The Paradoxical Commandments that was written by Kent Keith in 1968. This version was reportedly written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta, India, and is widely attributed to her.
There are plenty of reasons to give up doing good in this world. There is nothing that Satan would rather have us believe than the worthlessness of our deeds and actions. But I’m here to say, along with many of the great poets, writers and leaders of our time that who you are and what you do for others and yourself does matter. You matter. It’s a human fallacy to believe that our tiny actions in the big scheme don’t matter. It’s precisely because of all of our actions, collectively placed together that any significant change in the world has ever occurred. I know that I can’t do everything for everyone. But it is because of that fact that when I can do something for someone, that I take that opportunity to do a good deed, regardless of the outcomes that may transpire. As Gandhi once wrote:
It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.
We all understand that from a scientific perspective, we are all unique. But do we understand that from spiritual standpoint? Do we understand that from a social standpoint? Richard Fuller once stated:
Never forget that you are one of a kind. Never forget that if there weren’t any need for you in all your uniqueness to be on this earth, you wouldn’t be here in the first place. And never forget, no matter how overwhelming life’s challenges and problems seem to be, that one person can make a difference in the world. In fact, it is always because of one person that all the changes that matter in the world come about. So be that one person.
To go along with this quote, Edward Hale remarked:
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
Do not allow the overwhelming pressures and scope of the things that you are not able to do, prevent you from doing those things that you can do. You have so much to contribute to the world so don’t allow anyone (including yourself) to tell you otherwise.