A week ago we were vacationing on the beach and were caught up in the anticipation of baby turtles emerging from their nests. Now that we’re back in suburban Chicago, the urgency has diminished, but I can’t resist sharing three cultural observations sparked by a sea turtle send off.
1) The importance of proximity.
It was fun watching for baby turtles on the beach while living within a stone’s throw of two active nests. The whole process was very immediate. As we cheerfully escorted one little turtle into the water, a fine thing to do, the thought crossed my mind that countless creatures and human beings live in desperate need and vulnerability, and too many have less support, encouragement and help than these turtles enjoy. Wouldn’t our efforts be better spent assisting starving or sick people?
In our increasingly globalized and media saturated culture we are aware of needs all over the world. Such information is good, because it moves us to provide real assistance, but it is also a burden. I admit to a certain amount of compassion fatigue when I hear of earthquakes, famine, war, human trafficking of young girls, school kids shot in the city of Chicago, oppression…and so on. It is just too much for my mind and my heart to handle. Maybe, then, we invest our compassion in whatever picture of vulnerability we find right under our noses. A turtle. A stray dog. A child. A neighbor. I think that is a perfectly appropriate thing to do.
Dallas Willard, philosopher and theologian, shared some wisdom in a lecture I attended last fall that has been very helpful to me when I feel inadequate in my response to the needs of the world. He said, “As a disciple of Jesus I’m learning how to live my life in the Kingdom of God as he would if he were I.” I do not live in, nor do I have resources, to help those in every war-torn or poverty-stricken place on the globe. But I can show kindness to vulnerable and needy people in my general proximity. I can live like Jesus would in my family, in my community, with my resources and knowledge. That’s all I can do.
In my humble opinion, we have become a ridiculously risk-averse society. Reasonable safeguards are one thing, but regulating everything that ever caused an accident is quite another. I am all for increasing the odds of sea turtle survival, but this picture raises several questions in my mind: Do we hyper-manage the little risks (like a turtle getting out if its nest) out of frustration over our inability to reduce the larger risks (like predators in the ocean)? Is risk regulation ultimately liberating or limiting? In whom or what do we place our trust: human knowledge and our ability to control risk or God’s sovereign oversight of our circumstances?
As a parent, I understand the impulse to smooth the way for a child. When my children were young I tried do just that, until I learned two things: It is impossible, and it is not good for them. The real danger for children is not that they will encounter rough terrain, for they will, but that they will fail to develop the skills and strength of character to navigate through it.
An easy life is not always good for adults either. The above scene can also be a picture of God leading us into new and potentially risky arenas. He goes before us in all things; sometimes to smooth our paths and other times to expertly allow obstacles that will teach us to seek him instead of seeking comfort. I will never understand his ways, but I am learning to trust his heart.
How do you feel about risk? Do you attempt to manage or control or avoid risk? Do the world’s problems feel overwhelming to you?
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6