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“I made a difference for that one”

An old man had a habit of taking early morning walks along the beach. One day, after a strong storm, he saw a young lady in the distance by the shoreline moving like a dancer. As he came closer he saw that the young woman was not dancing, but was reaching down into the sand, picking up starfish one at a time and gently returning them to the ocean.

The old man looked down the beach and ruefully shook his head. The beach was littered with starfish, as far as the eye could see, that had been washed onto shore by the storm. Even if this young lady worked all day she would not make a dent in the overall number. The starfish were the unfortunate casualties of the storm’s ferocity.

He approached the young woman, who was so focused on her work that he startled her with his question.

“Young lady,” he said. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean? The sun is coming up, the tide is going out, and there are miles and miles of beach with starfish all along it. These starfish are going to die, and there is no way you can make a difference.”

The young woman stopped for a minute, starfish in hand. She looked at the starfish she had just picked up and held it up for the old man to see. They both took a moment to observe the creature’s beautiful detail, taking in the intricate design along its five appendages. The woman instinctively ran the pad of her index finger gently along the surface of the starfish, and the old man was fascinated by its slow, apprehensive recoil.

The woman then turned and gently tossed the creature into the ocean, past the breaking waves. She then turned to the old man with a polite smile and responded simply.

“I made a difference for that one.”

This is an old story, told and retold in many forms across many platforms. It is a powerful, if anecdotal, reminder of a simple truth. Small acts matter. Oftentimes the sheer scale of need and challenge in our world can be an overwhelming impediment that hinders people from lending a hand. With so much need, suffering, and hopelessness prevalent in our world, what difference can I really make?

This comprehensive, overwhelming sense of need can lead to paralysis. We don’t know where to start, and we feel fairly confident that even if we did, our impact would be negligible. This is a common fallacy, but at first blush seems logical. We are financially savvy people and want our hard-earned dollars to be utilized to the utmost degree. Rationalizing how $5, $10, or $25 can impact the need in our world can be an exercise in futility.

Shaking loose from this line of thinking is not challenging, all it requires is a shift in perspective. Instead of looking at need, poverty, homelessness, spiritual thirst, etc. as a global issue from 10,000 feet, simply zoom in. Look at these issues from a deeply personal, one-on-one standpoint.

The child in Haiti who has never known the simple joy of a full belly, who lives day-to-day unsure of where her next meal is coming from, you can help her. When we personalize the need, when we can attribute names and faces to raw statistics, we can better understand the significance a small gift can make in the life of someone in need.

Giving Tuesday is a tremendous moment to pause, and make a conscious decision to lend a hand in a small way. While we may not solve world hunger, and while our contribution may not unilaterally alter the way of life for an entire people group, we absolutely can impact the life of one person in need. As we look across the vast landscape of need in our world, as thick as washed-up starfish along miles of shoreline, we recognize we cannot possibly fix it all.

But we can help one.


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