Feeling good . . . doing good . . .

Social Justice Is Not Meant to Make Us Feel Good About Ourselves

By Miriam Riad

I walked hurriedly toward the Park Street T stop. This was not how I was expected to feel after my first day volunteering at the women and children’s shelter. As I got on the train and sat down, tired, I tried to figure out what I was feeling. It was something like dissatisfaction, or perhaps disappointment. It was uncomfortable. I was expecting, when I signed up to play with homeless children for a few hours each week, that it would be a rewarding experience. In the back of my mind, I envisioned I would be a blessing in these children’s lives, that they would experience the love of God through me. As I sat on the T heading home, I became aware that I had been expecting something in return for my efforts. Something inside me had hoped volunteering would make feel good about myself. While I did genuinely want to serve these kids and be a blessing in my community, mixed in there was a desire to get something out of it personally. To walk away feeling good about myself. To come at the end of the shift feeling gratified.

My first shift at the shelter was hectic. I couldn’t remember kids names as I tried to play with them; they didn’t listen to me. Just like any other children their ages, these kids were hyper and wanted to wrestle and color with the marker on the table and climb on the furniture. By the end, I was slightly exasperated and overwhelmed.

And then I realized. Serving is not about my personal satisfaction. There are many weeks when I come home from playing with the kids and I am not satisfied. I feel frustrated with my inability to connect with them, to do more for them, or I’m just simply worn out by how hyper they were. And there are other days where I leave with a smile on my face, because I got to bond with one of them and there were no tears. But I’m learning that whether I feel satisfied at the end of a shift is not the point, and should not be my goal or measure of success. Because it’s not about me.

So what should be the true motivation of someone who wants to obey Jesus in caring for the poor and the needy (James 1:27)? I think the answer can be found in Jesus’ prayer to the Father before going to the Cross. As Jesus prayers to the Father, he says, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). Jesus glorified the Father with the work he did. Our first motivation should be to glorify God, because he is worthy. When our just God is honored and lifted high, justice will be manifested on earth.

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