Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Wasted Effort?

Recently I attended a professional development seminar about college and university alumni magazines. The presenters quoted the editor of an award-winning magazine as saying, "If people aren't reading your magazine, then every dollar you spend is wasted." This editor was making a point about the importance of good content and an attractive layout to pull in readers. The whole point of an alumni magazine is to generate interest in the school and help the alumni feel connected, and all the effort put into the magazine would be for nothing if it couldn't achieve those goals.

We value many of our efforts based on their results. At an early age many of us learned that the grades on our report cards were often considered more important than how hard we tried, and the results of the athletic and extracurricular contests in which we participated began to seem much more important than what we had learned through those experiences. As we grew up, we learned the importance of things like transcripts and GPAs and honor societies. Our resumés were only as good as the jobs they could get us. Our work was valued by its ability to provide us with job security and pay raises. Even our efforts for the good of others are often valued by their results. It only seems to be worth doing something nice for someone if we can see the impact it made on their lives. We don't want to work to better the world unless we can see the results of our efforts.

Still, I've come to realize that not everything is about concrete results. Sometimes it's important to do the right thing even if it doesn't seem to make a difference. If our efforts to live with righteousness and love don't produce the results we hope for, these efforts are still good for us. When we stand up for what is right, we bring ourselves closer to God and reaffirm the importance of love in our lives, and even if that doesn't change anyone or anything else, it will still keep us spiritually strong and healthy. After the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Garth Brooks recorded a song called "The Change" that addresses the criticisms of those who think that small acts of kindness are pointless because they cannot make a substantial difference in the world. He sings, "I hear them saying, 'You'll never change things, and no matter what you do it's still the same thing.' But it's not the world that I am changing. I do this so this world will know that it will not change me."

Our love, faith, integrity, and dedication are the most precious things we have. Using them is never a waste, no matter what the results may be. If I am kind to an ungrateful person, my kindness still wasn't a waste. If I dedicate myself to a worthy cause but am unable to make the impact that I wanted to make, that doesn't mean I've wasted my time. Even now as I write this blog, I have no idea whether more than a couple of people will ever read this post, but I believe that it is worth it to write it even if no one reads it. Because I invested in this post and put a little bit of my heart into it, it has value for me no matter what. Every time I try to live as a Christian and make efforts to spread love in the world, I get an internal boost that exists independently of the results of my actions. I am constantly recharging myself just by being true to God and to myself.

No effort to live as Jesus taught us to live is ever wasted, no matter what anyone else might think.

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