03 March 2007

Twentysomething and Idealism

Thursday night I went to see the movie "Amazing Grace" with a few friends. The movie is based on the true story of William Wilberforce, a member of the English Parliament. In September 1780, Wilberforce was elected to Parliament at the age of 21. In 1785, Wilberforce had a spiritual experience in which he resolved to commit his life to the service of God. He felt like he had to become a minister or monk to commit himself to God, but all the advice that he received from others was that he should stay in politics, including from John Newton, a leading evangelical minister. Wilberforce said in the movie that he was torn because he wanted to commit himself to God but he also felt like he had to serve humanity by abolishing the slave trade. Through some great advice, he realized he could do both by doing the latter. Through Wilberforce's persistence, he finally saw the slave trade abolished in 1807.

Wilberforce was an idealist. He saw a reason to fight for the rights of humanity. He had ideals for a more perfect soceity and he fought through the pain and opposition to see it happen. Over the past couple weeks, I have been realizing in myself that I, too, am an idealist. I dream big and I dream optimistically. I have these grand ideas for helping the world. Most of the time, people might say I'm in over my head, and I probably am. How can I think that I could tackle the AIDS epidemic spreading across Africa, India, and the rest of the world? How could I assume that I could take on world poverty and world hunger? How could I believe that I could see a whole major city come back to God and find His grace? "Nice dreams...but be realistic." I don't know what it is, but I can't think smaller. I can't dream on a smaller scale. I have something inside me that must live for something much larger than myself. Some say it's because I'm in my twenties and haven't lived long enough to become a realist. My response: I hope to God that when I am forty, I haven't allowed life to callous me over so badly that I have such a smaller hope and passion for humanity. When I look at the Scriptures and when I read Jesus' words, I see a kingdom of grace. I see a kingdom built on lofty ideals. Faith, hope, love, grace, mercy....these are lofty, optimistic and outright crazy ideals for humanity. Yet God has asked me to live by them. So when does it say to not be an idealist and give yourself away for crazy dreams for a better world? It doesn't.

There's only one catch. When I went backpacking this week, there were portions of the trail that were painful and physically challenging. After going for 8 or 9 miles in a day with a 40 pound backpack, a one mile steep uphill hike pushed my body to its limit. I was mentally forcing myself to put one foot in front of the other because my body would not do it naturally. It was done. Unfortunately, I had another 5 miles to go that day. I ended up doing it too. I realized something that day. I had lofty ideas about backpacking and how amazing it would be to push my body to its limits. I thought that it wouldn't get that bad and I could push myself through anything. But those ideas are easier said beforehand. When I arrived in the moment of pain and suffering, and my body was hitting the wall, it was not so easy to have the ideals of backpacking that I had before I started. In those moments, I wanted it to be over. I just wanted to sit down in our car and go home. I wanted to finish the uphill climb on an escalator and then never return.

Ideals are easy to have and rant about. It's easy to sit in a classroom or over coffee and speak passionately for a cause. However, it is another thing to fight passionately for the cause when you are in the midst of the pain, suffering, opposition, and you feel alone in the fight. There are thousands, maybe millions, who live and die with lofty ideals. But when they begin to fight for their ideals, and the pain sets in, most of them fall away and just want to quit. They become realists because the pain of the fight overcame their own perseverance. Many live and die with lofty ideals. Only a few fight to the end for their ideals and those are the few that we read about and admire today. Those are the Wilberforces and Ghandis of history. Will my idealism fade when the weight of the fight is pushing down on my back, the uphill battle looks like it will never end, and I can't convince my feet to continue to move forward? I pray to God that it won't.