Thanks to a tip from my sister-in-law, my husband and I have been watching NBC’s The Good Place lately. (It’s funny and I highly recommend—catch up on Netflix and Hulu).
Minimizing any spoilers, there’s some conversation in the show right now about how difficult it is for people to be good in the modern world. The simplest parts of life are so complicated and global that even our smallest choices can have drastic consequences—whether we see them or not. One episode used an easy example: simply buying a tomato at the local Piggly Wiggly might mean you’re inadvertently supporting pesticide use and unfair working conditions in communities far away.
Too true. Modern life is stressful, isn’t it?
You wonder if each item of clothing you buy was crafted by a child forced into hard labor. You wonder if your eggs were laid by chickens living a bleak life on factory farms. You wonder if your preferred brand of baby shampoo contributes money to a non-profit organization you deeply dislike. You wonder if your charitable donations are going to the cause itself or just lining executives’ pockets. You wonder if the homeless man asking for your spare change might turn around and spend it on drugs. You wonder if you’re poisoning the water table by using bleach on a stubborn stain.
You wonder and wonder and wonder.
The guilt is everywhere, isn’t it? Certainly it’s on Facebook, where everyone shares idealist memes and posts pictures of their creative protest signs and “5 favorite ways to live more sustainably.” It’s on the news, garish in its display of the very worst of what’s happening in the world (giving no attention to the many, many good things that happen every minute of every day) and haranguing us for the violence and injustices of society. It’s probably in your family or groups of friends, where everyone has an opinion to share. And it’s always on your heart, making you question your choices in the quiet moments, when everything you’ve done wrong in a given day replays across your mind’s eye.
But the thing is that your life, that beautiful and complicated thing with all its individual struggles and triumphs, is stressful all on its own. Justifiably so.
You worry about earning enough to support your family, or supporting your burnt-out spouse in his or her zealous efforts to do so even while you’re running on fumes at home. You worry about raising up good, happy children who will be kind to others and love themselves as God loves them. You worry about voicing the Truth, even when it makes you unpopular, and nurturing your soul. You worry about coordinating childcare, travel, school, passion projects, home maintenance, personal development, meal plans, inboxes, outboxes, taxes, and extracurriculars at the same time, all the time. You worry about managing calendars and maintaining relationships and being fully present for the people you love even when you have a million other things on your mind.
You worry and worry and worry.
There’s just so much on your plate.
I have an unpopular opinion to confess, and I’m sharing it in the hopes it helps other moms feel less guilty when they simply can’t keep up with it all.
I don’t watch the news and I rarely scroll through headlines. I don’t know what the latest food pyramid (is it still a pyramid?) looks like, and I don’t know who’s up for a Nobel Peace Prize or why. I don’t run into every debate I come across to evangelize aloud to my peers. I don’t inspect every ingredient list or research every brand I buy. And most of the time, I don’t feel bad about it.
For a time, I tried to do these things. I tried to keep up with the intricate goings-on of the big, wide world around me, to see the many unseen consequences of my actions and take more ownership of those consequences.
And can I be honest? It was depressing. There was so much bad right in front of me. It left me feeling downtrodden and defeated—beaten down by the many sad realities we’ve made for ourselves in this very flawed world.
What’s worse was that it stole my optimism from me. I believe very deeply that we are all made to be good—we are all given an indelible soul and created in the image and likeness of Love itself. We are all God’s children.
Chasing every negative strand down its inevitable rabbit hole made that so much harder to see. No one was covering the happy things, and I was losing the forest for the trees.
Beyond all that, I was simply running low on time. My kids needed me. My husband needed me. My home, job, and extended family needed me. I needed me. I needed to invest in those things, and the additional time and energy had to come from somewhere.
So I don’t feel obligated to pull the thread of each and every decision I make, testing to see how thoroughly my positive intent unravels into a net negative effect. And I don’t think you should, either.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t live a life of carelessness or solitary self-interest. I buy organic for many grocery segments and have a personal commitment to free-range eggs. I avoid some of the more blatantly irresponsible brands (which, often, are too expensive anyway). I donate items instead of trashing them, I recycle, I buy secondhand where it makes sense, and I teach my toddlers not to be wasteful. I’m trying to prioritize cleaning and self-care products that feature natural ingredients. I donate to people and causes in need. I tell the Truth and live it in full view of my neighbors. I am not blind to what’s happening in the world my children will inherit.
But these are choices I make in an effort to care for my family more responsibly. They aren’t hard rules I punish myself for breaking or hold against others who don’t share them.
We live in a very big, very troubled world. And the reality is that we are each a brief blip on the global radar. For most of us, it will be difficult—if not impossible—to have an influence so notable that our names will be recorded in history books.
But do you know what part of your world is very small and very impressionable? What part of your world is fundamentally influenced by you and the choices you make?
I think Saint Teresa of Calcutta said it best. Upon winning the Nobel Peace Prize, she was asked how we can promote world peace. Her response? “Go home and love your family.”
If marriage and parenthood are your vocations, the ripple effect of your influence on the world—named or not—begins at home. It begins with the love you share with your spouse and the love you instill in your children.
So be a good citizen of the world, but do not obsess over the world or its affairs. This world is not your home.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2