The Line Between Doing Too Much And Nothing At All

The narrow gate

How many people can actually enter through “the narrow gate”? The priest posed this question this weekend. He went on to use Joan of Arc as an example of someone who did exactly what she was told by God to do, regardless of what anyone else thought. Our job is the same: to figure out what we are called to do. Not anybody else. Our own personal calling. The answer to the question of how many can enter through the narrow gate, he concluded, is one. Each person’s path is his or hers alone.

Alex leaned over to me and whispered, “What’s he talking about, Mommy?”

“You remember how I’m always saying ‘you take care of you’?” I answered. “He’s telling us it’s not our job to figure out what everybody else is supposed to be doing. We’re supposed to figure out what God’s asking us to do and do it, not try to tell everyone else what they’re doing wrong.”

This theme, of “stay the heck out of everybody else’s business,” is one that weighs on me a lot lately, probably because I have a house full of miscreants who love to mind everyone’s business but their own. It seems simple, but it’s not. Because there are times when someone needs to tattle on their baby brother who has moved the stool over to the kitchen counter and is, oh, I don’t know, playing with the sharp knife block.

It’s not hard to see the application to the larger world. Most of us are quick to pass judgment on news stories and situations we observe. We have easy prescriptions for what ails the world; we assume that what we’re called to is what everyone else is called to, and the fact that their lives don’t look like ours means they’re wrong, wrong, wrong. It’s easy to spend so much time minding everybody else’s splinter-in-the-eye that we forget our primary responsibility is to remove the plank in our own.


Photo by Sepehr Ehsani, via Flickr

There’s a line between minding everybody else’s business and doing nothing at all. If we focus myopically on our own business to the exclusion of the larger world, then the work of spreading the Gospel won’t get done. Our lives, and therefore our faith lives, are lived out in a community of believers and unbelievers, in a social and political culture caught between high ideals and human nature. We have to do something. After all, sometimes the baby’s into the knife block.

Still, we have to recognize the limits of our influence. When we talk about making a difference we always think big: changing the world by impacting the culture, and especially politics.

Now, it’s probably no secret that I’m deeply, deeply jaded about politics. I’m just not convinced it really matters all that much who’s in charge. And my ability to sway them is zero. I know, because every once in a while I can’t help myself and I write a spate of letters to politicians. And they always send me back a form reply that goes something like this: “So sorry you disagree with me, but I’m clearly right so I’m going to ignore what you think, but I enjoyed our conversation and hope we have many more like it, until you change your mind and we become perfectly unified in belief.” I got one of those replies this morning…six months after I wrote to said politician.

The Narrow Gate
The Narrow Gate (Photo credit: Peeblespair)

Clearly, my ability to impact the public sphere through the political process is zero. My energy would be far better spent sprinkling leaven among those closest to me. To live the faith and reach out to people by kindness and action. And I’m guessing the same is true for most of us.

Discerning right action is always going to be a tricky, non-sustainable balance between doing too much and doing nothing at all. But I’m guessing if we focus on identifying the “narrow gate” God is calling us to enter, what lies beyond it will become a lot clearer.