This article is made up of a number of things I’ve found helpful, presented in no particular order. Hopefully they’ll help you too.
• Remembering what brought me to action in the first place
By recalling the feelings, experiences etc and making an effort to catch up with people who were involved I sometimes manage to re-enthuse myself. Memories of useful campaign action, inspiring speakers or texts have been particularly useful.
• Being on lots of mailing lists (CAFOD, Progressio, Tearfund, Pax Christi, Oxfam, World Development Movement, Jubilee Debt Campaign, Friends of the Earth, People and Planet, …). These guide me towards action and remind me that other people care.
• Encounters with poverty
My experiences as a volunteer in developing countries keep me motivated.
• Contact with others who think similarly
It’s so encouraging to meet with others and know you’re not alone. I try to go to lectures, campaign meetings, etc. Although the ‘preaching to the converted’ aspect can be frustrating it’s useful to know I’m not crazy (or at least that there are other people who are similarly crazy)
• Following the news – including world news via www.bbc.co.uk/news and similar
• Trying to make lots of my prayer life about justice
Reading books and reflective materials with a justice theme (such as the LiveSimply book and the Tear Fund Prayer diary)
• Being an optimist, always trying to believe that there’s always something that can be done
• Subscribing to magazines that encourage and challenge me (such as the New Internationalist)
• Reading encouraging and challenging books
For example I recently finished (and strongly recommend) ‘Life Stripped Bare’ by Leo Hickman and ‘The Irresistible Revolution’ by Shane Clairbourne. You can find other recommended books here.
• Taking time off
I’ve found that I need to take time off from reading/acting/thinking around social justice issues. The challenge is to allow myself to do this without feeling guilty about it – there’s a voice in my head saying ‘people in poverty aren’t getting time-off, why should you?’. The fact is that if I don’t, I burn out. Therefore I make a point of having fun – reading a (non-depressing) novel, playing sport, music etc, having fun and generally letting my mind be diverted.
• When I’m really low in it all…
…I find the below text extremely helpful. It is an extract from a longer letter from the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, dated February 21, 1966.
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there too a great deal has to be gone through as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything…
…The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important.
The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.
The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion….
The real hope, then is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it before hand…
Enough of this…it is at least a gesture….I will keep you in my prayers.