I almost didn’t come to Armenia.
I spent a lot of years as that person who tries to Do Everything and Be Everything, and I know what it feels like to burn out. I know what it’s like to overcommit — to feel like you have to overcommit to the world in order to really love it like God does.
I spend a lot of time at work in the ethereal space of The Internet, and I know the weight of having the pain and tragedy of the world in your Twitter feed, in your Facebook feed, in your face all. the. time.
I have become, over these past years, a big believer in finding your few things. The overcommitted, over-busy, fractured, distracted life is not one that I want to live, so I zero my energies in on the few things that I am doing. My family. My writing. My small, church women’s group. And within these three spaces, I’m focused almost completely on doing the quiet, intentional work of making others feel seen.
That’s it. With two young kids at home and a book deadline, that’s all I can handle right now.
And it means saying no to things that are really good and beautiful and necessary. Volunteering at the local junior high with at-risk youth. Working with the Breaking Free organization in our area to help end human trafficking. Sorting things from the lost-and-found at Dane’s kindergarten. Writing compelling pieces about hot-button issues. Organizing food drives or clothing drives or serving in the church nursery. These are all things that I say no to so that I can say yes to my few things. The ones I feel like, right now, are what I’m meant to do.
Armenia wasn’t one of my few things.
I’ve never had a “heart for missions,” though for a long time, I pretended I did to impress that one boyfriend. And though I feel the weight of world hunger and extreme poverty, I am not the strategic thinker who can implement change. I am not a social worker or a teacher or a doctor. I’m a chronic homebody who struggles in other cultures. I’m not even a people-person.
But World Vision didn’t ask me to build wells or houses or do street evangelism or fix a broken system.
They asked me to see. They asked me to write. They asked me to do my few things in this new and far away place, and so even though everything in me was screaming, Stay home! Stay home! Stay home!, I got on that plane and I came.
I know what it feels like to be a Christian in a land of privilege. I know the constant pound of guilt that well-meaning organizations tend to drive into your heart. Give more! Do more! Be more! There is so much need! You have so much wealth! Care more! Care more! Care more!
I feel it too — like my heart is already holding as much as it can. Like it’s already broken, like it’s falling apart because there is so much to care about it and, if I’m honest, there’s only so much I can care.
After the first few days here in Armenia, this is how I felt: numb. Defeated. Discouraged. There was so much need in that mountainous Amasia area, where World Vision projects were just getting started…and I felt my heart closing up, steeling itself against my own powerlessness.
Today we sat in a room of bright-eyed Gyumri youth while they told us about the projects that they have been implementing in their city and its surrounding villages in the past couple of years. School supply collections. Puppet theater. Easter food baskets for needy families. They built a library where there had not been one. They built an ice skating rink so that kids would have something to do in winter. One day, they all went out on roller skates and traded apples for cigarettes across the city, trying to encourage a healthy lifestyle.
And it occurred to me as I sat there in the room: I don’t have to care about this.
They don’t need me to take this on. They don’t need me to make Armenian poverty one of my few things. It’s okay that I’m not passionate about building an ice skating rink or roller-skating for cigarettes or puppet theatre. Because these are their few things. They are passionate about this. They are passionate about their city and their country and their people. I watched them, these beautiful kids with fire in their eyes, and I felt the most freeing sense of peace.
What World Vision has been doing all these years in Gyumri through the child sponsorship program is helping people take back control of their own lives. And they don’t need me to care in that exhausting way that I’m used to having to care about things. They just need me to see them. They need my $35 a month so that they can make those Easter food baskets and run their health care seminars and buy school supplies and take back their city.
I always suspected that giving money was somehow less noble, less spiritual, less holy than being there. Than really caring. Than offering my sweat, blood, and tears to a particular problem or issue or crisis.
But what if, in some cases, it’s exactly enough?
Maybe I can release myself from the pressure to feel everything, and instead send my money off each month with a prayer and a blessing, full of gratitude for the power and creativity and passion of the people already working here.
Maybe part of the work of community is affirming and supporting each other’s few things while reserving our limited energy for our own.
This morning, I stood in the home of a local family whom World Vision has helped to transition from extreme poverty to total self-sufficiency. Their little boy stood in the middle of their newly built living room and sang us a song. It was gorgeous and haunting and wild and brave.
I sat there, listening with tears in my eyes, and I recognized something new: I don’t have to be a voice for Armenia. Armenia has her own strong, beautiful voice. She always has.
I am here, and it is not my thing, but I get to be part of it in a very small way. It’s a privilege to sit very still and listen to this sad, hopeful, beautiful song. It’s a privilege to clap madly and blink back tears.
And then, it’s okay — it’s right — to go home, to keep doing my few things, sending my small token of love across the sprawling ocean, one month at a time.