Practical Advice For Dealing With Global Suffering

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I saw more pain and sadness during my 3 years in Malawi than most Americans will see their entire lives. Recently someone asked me how I’ve dealt with being around it so much. These are my practical tips for dealing with the harsh realities of our broken world.

Per usual, this advice is easy to understand but hard to follow.

(1) Don’t look away

There has never before been, in all of history, a time when so many people have had access to our amount of resources, information and capability to help the poor.

There are many ways to deal with difficulty. But pretending it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t affect you will leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled.

(2) Be grateful

One thing I’ve always wondered is why I was born into such privilege while the majority of the world was born into relative destitution. I’m tempted to feel guilty about it. But feeling guilty about being born into privilege makes about as much sense as feeling guilty for being born tall. In this case, guilt accomplishes nothing.

Instead, my advice is to think hard about all the things in your life that you have to be grateful for, and then express it. And one way to express gratitude is through generosity. Generosity never comes from a feeling of guilt, but is instead a natural reaction to appreciating what you’ve been given.

(3) Give sacrificially

The question then becomes, “how generous should I be?” My advice for this is simple: give until it hurts. You’ll never feel like you’re doing enough for others if you only give out of your abundance. You need to give to the point where you feel uncomfortable. Only then will you feel like you’re doing your part. (For example, when was the last time you didn’t go on a vacation because you gave so much away?)

But be careful of a common trap. Many will look at their personal wealth and will then compare it to the totality of human suffering and will consequently throw their hands up in defeat. Even the richest man of all time (Bill Gates) is incapable of helping everyone despite giving away 99% of his fortune. So, instead of looking at what your resources can’t do, look at what they can do. You can dramatically change people’s lives. Focus on that.

(4) Be hopeful

I don’t personally understand why a supposedly loving God would allow so much horrific suffering in this world. It’s incomprehensible to me and has often caused me great anger. But this anger is arrogant.

I’m a human whose been walking this earth for 27 brief years. Who am I to question the motives of the Creator of the Universe? Is it not possible that somehow the great suffering and pain of this world also carries some imperceptible deep meaning along with it? It’s not a design I would have chosen, but I’m not the one running the show. And so, I can only hope that God truly is loving, and that someday I’ll get to learn the answer to my pressing question: “why does evil have to exist?”

(5) Release

My expectation is that when I finally learn the answer, I will feel foolish for ever questioning God’s motives. The toddler who wants to chase his ball into the busy street cries when his dad picks him up to stop him. But someday that toddler grows up to realize that his dad loved him all along, even when it felt like the opposite.

For now, you will never be able to make sense of all the suffering in the world. So, after doing your part, and hoping that there’s meaning behind it, my final piece of advice is that you learn to accept it for what it is. That’s all you can do.