How to stay optimistic in a hurting world
There is a common metaphor to describe long-lasting challenges: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” In that case, the fight for global freedom is a long-course triathlon--a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. Unless you’re at a way-above-average level of physical fitness, just reading that might have made you want to crawl back into bed for the day and hide. Truly, like stretching your body to the limit, the fight for justice for all seems like something reserved for the iron-willed, only the very strongest and most enduring few.
But instead, imagine taking on the triathlon not alone but with hundreds, thousands, millions of others who are there to run alongside you and help bear the burden. We know that our goal--justice for all--is a tall order with no easy solution. It’s quite normal, in fact, to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all: the estimated tens of millions of people enslaved, the cross-continental trafficking, and the simple education many people lack.
To combat this, we need to stay optimistic through the hurting. Yes, we absolutely should grieve with and for those in hard situations, but here are a few encouragements we all need to be reminded of sometimes:
1. We stand with people, not numbers.
Remember that each individual is distinctly beautiful and has unique value and dignity. Although it’s a tragedy that there are an estimated 20 to 45 million people in slavery right now, each rescue mission and each dollar raised make a difference. The gains, little by little, affect real people. We’re not subtracting 1 from 45 million; we’re rescuing a 15 year old girl from the slavery she’s known for six years and introducing her to a life of loving community, fair and productive work, and opportunities for independence and growth on a trajectory she had only dreamed of.
2. The effects of our actions ripple outward.
When one person is empowered or loved, he/she reflects those things through actions or words to the people with whom he/she interacts. Similarly, with each piece of legislation passed or executed, a whole community benefits. The paradigm shift from passively tolerating to refusing to accept violations against women, men, and children is huge for a community! It also reflects the hard work and dedication of other actors in the fight who are also seeking justice for the oppressed.
3. The burden does not fall on us alone.
No single person or group of people is wholly responsible for the state of our world. If you have a personal faith, let that be part of what drives and encourages you. Many individuals find gratitude and refreshment in remembrance and prayer, and personal faith also stirs believers to acknowledge a responsibility to help and contribute to the fight for justice for all. Whatever your faith may be, spending time in prayer or meditation can be extremely focusing and encouraging. For those without personal faith, remembering that you are surrounded by a worldwide community of others reaching toward the same goal as you is reassuring and hopeful.
4. There are formal and informal structures and organizations in place to help.
It is nearly impossible to count the number of human rights organizations and institutions established around the globe making incredible headway for what is right. Dressember and our partners, International Justice Mission, A21 and Mcmahon/Ryan Child Advocacy Center, are only drops in the bucket for the massive body of people who fight for integrity and individual human dignity. This army is composed of lawyers, social workers, speakers, and more, but it also includes regular folks who choose to advocate in small ways in their daily lives. Take heart in the sheer capacity and power of it all.
While each person absolutely has the potential to make incredible advancements for worldwide human liberty, we’re all just one of many. The issue of human trafficking is grim, the scope is staggering, and the struggle to resist is an enormous triathlon, but hope is essential. Dare to find encouragement and the grit to keep fighting for change.
About the Author
Chynna Terrell is an ENFJ studying English Literature at the University of Oklahoma (boomer!). Aside from trying not to think about being a senior, she is president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and is excited to participate again and write for Dressember. And, why yes, she would love to have you over for a hot cup of tea, a puzzle, and good conversation.