American Express has been airing television commercials with the tag line: "Take charge of making a difference." One such story of taking charge illustrates the impact one man had on the educational future of kids in Harlem. Beginning with one block, then moving to the next, he helped rebuild neighborhood and community pride. From a sense of pride and ownership kids experienced confidence, and from there... It's a feel-good commercial, and the tag line encourages and challenges others to do our part to make a difference.
It's a new twist on an old theme, but it comes at a time, at least for me, when I need to be reminded to take charge. This applies mostly to my own life, mind you. Take charge of my clutter: I'm actually doing much better in that regard. Take charge of my dog: well, not so much. Take charge of my finances: better there, too. Take charge of my future... This is where I get bogged down. I have no confidence about where my future lies.
I would like nothing better than to be out in the world making a difference. This isn't to say that I don't make a difference now through my work as a priest. It is a vocation, however, whose impact cannot ever really be measured unless people tell you so. I've been fortunate enough to have had some people, along the way, let me know about such an impact. Something I preached inspired one woman to quit smoking. Another found hope to get through months that stretched into years of infertility (they now have four, fabulous children). Others have been less specific, but have pointed to inspiration, uplifting words, or other such things that led to change and transformation. I am humbled by such acknowledgments.
There is a difference, however, between letting go of the outcome of preaching and seeing or feeling the impact of hands-on efforts to bring light or hope into another life. Too often, it seems, my own life needs light and hope, and my vision is nearsighted. That is not my desire. It is more accurately an acknowledgment of a certain reality. It matters to me, though, to make a difference.
I can recall a seminary professor who remarked to me near the end of that chapter of my life, "You must be eager to be done here." I assumed he was referring to studying. Then he continued, "I'm sure you're looking forward to being back in the world where you can make a contribution."
If I were to grade myself on that aspect of participating in life in the world I would give myself a "C." I don't consider myself on the edge of failure, but neither have I excelled in the area of making a difference. It disappoints me that my passions have not led me there, and that my heart has not driven me in that direction.
I don't want to or intend to settle for my "C" grade. I'm not content to lean on the attitude that I am who I am. So I pray for change, for transformation, for some glimmer of how I can be who I am and somehow make a difference. Now. I pray to find a way to take charge.