Those of us who identify ourselves as activists of various stripes often use our work as a shield against our deepest fears and loneliness. Leery of those who peddle spirituality as self-help and who ignore the "root causes" of injustice and suffering, we can be fearful of admitting our own fatigue and dismay.
Within this tendency lies an interesting idolatry—one that is harder to identify than wealth, security, or even doctrinal purity. More often than not, we understand the gifts we have been given—the prophetic word, the cry of challenge to unjust systems—as something deposited in us, rather than something that flows through us. Thus we interpret our lives according to our faithfulness to this gift, rather than according to our relationship with the God who is the source of our gifts and callings. This severance casts our efforts in a strangely harsh light: It either causes us to interpret ourselves as being of singular importance, which renders us easily threatened, or it increases our already deep sense that we are always failing, no matter how hard we try. In either case, cut off from our life-source, the seed we sow in the world will be born of this fatigued arrogance, and we become just one more force out there imposing its vision on the world.
Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug (Isaiah 51:1).
Kari Jo Verhulst, a Sojourners contributing writer, was an M.Div. student at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., when this article appeared.