It’s hard to not feel a need to do something large with your life—something epic. What if my life goes by and I haven’t made any difference to anyone? That is the fear that drives me to paralysis.
Of course I wouldn’t admit that to most people. It’s a naive wish—to make a difference in the world. Because who can?
But at the same time, perhaps I need to reexamine what it means to make a difference in the world. Because I don’t have to touch multitudes to make a difference in someone’s life. Almost everyone has been a huge influence on someone else’s life. Almost everyone has only influenced a handful of people. That’s what we do: we influence on a small scale. The small scale at which we, being small, operate.
Edith Schaeffer gets this. (She doesn’t get the harm she has done to her sales and readership by titling her book using the word “homemaking,” but she does get what it means to live and to yearn to make a difference.) There is longing within me to do something beautiful. Longing that Edith understands. She writes:
We may think ‘If only…’ – If only I weren’t so tied down with the mundane things of life. If only I had had a chance to go to art school. If only I had time to develop instead of being caught in this job. If only I hadn’t this endless round of housework and crying babies to overwhelm me. ‘If only…’ feelings can distort our personalities, and give us an obsession which can only lead to more and more dissatisfaction.
If only I were a better writer. If only I had more discipline. If only I could focus my life totally around that one pursuit.
But that’s not what life is. We are pulled like taffy; we are straining like the edge of the water lapping on rock and sand. We are full and we are empty. We choose dissatisfaction.
What would it take to pull away from TV, from work, for an hour a day? What would it look like if I could put myself down in print, relieve the tension and straining I constantly feel? Perhaps the first step away from ‘If only’ is ‘What if?’
And then the water opens up to my emptiness and cools me with the quench of possibility. The words on this page, these little possibilities, are the chord that drags me into the sea, drags me from questioning to action. “People so often look with longing into a daydream future, while ignoring the importance of the present. We are all in danger of thinking, ‘Some day I shall be fulfilled. Some day I shall have the courage to start another life which will develop my talent.’” There can be no “another life” for me. There is just this happy open yearning pulsing one where I am a wife and a worker, a professional and an environmentalist, a lover, a Christian, a writer.
I am open to a new fullness and striving towards a full emptiness. I choose to be satisfied in my desire to matter, to make a difference. Through writing—now, here, in this very moment.
There is art in all of us that can become a strangling ‘If only.’ Don’t be afraid of the ‘What if?’