How to Be a Blessing in an Overwhelming World

Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed by the problems of the world, a question floats into my mind. It’s a question asked by the wonderful singer Brandi Carlile on “That Wasn’t Me,” a gem of a tune about trying to get on a better path.

The question is this: “Do I make myself a blessing to everyone I meet?”

The lyric sticks with me every time I hear it. The words come near the end of the song, as the troubled narrator asks a seemingly simple question about how she encounters the world. The complicated nature of the thought comes wrapped in Carlile’s voice, which carries the unleashed beauty of a butterfly spitting fire (listen to her shred Radiohead’s “Creep” and you’ll understand).

Outside the context of the song, the question offers an invitation to rethink how we can do and be good in our daily lives. Even for the best of us, it can be difficult to connect our normal routines with some larger purpose. Whether it’s feeding the hungry, easing the suffering of others or just being the person who friends can count on, it’s not always clear if we’re producing results that are lasting and significant.

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Our hearts might be in the right place, but the tasks can seem overwhelming and far away. How can I help the marginalized while I’m picking out cookies at the supermarket? What am I really supposed to be doing with my time here? And where should I put my efforts, knowing they could be undone by disasters, natural or otherwise?

It can be easy to question whether the good you do is doing any good at all. It can feel like trying to fight back the ocean as wave after wave crashes in. But this question invites you to refocus your sights a bit.

We may feel disconnected from larger issues in the world or fail to see how our actions impact others. But by placing an intention in our hearts to be a blessing, we can find lots of places to do good. The elderly relative we know we should call more. The homeless person we pass on the way to work. The significant other who receives us at the end of the day, when we are tired and impatient. The stranger who cuts us off in traffic and then waves without all her fingers.

The world needs lots of work, but there’s no reason you can’t start with what’s right in front of you.

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“Blessing” is not a word that people throw around lightly, and being one is pretty difficult. Opening yourself up in this way invites you to learn more and offer more than you perhaps have been doing. It requires that you understand what the person across from you needs and how to give that gift to them.

Carlile’s song pops up on my iPod frequently, but I don’t really have an answer to her question. I don’t know that being a missionary or a social worker is the right path for me, even though I greatly admire the people who do that work. I try to find God in my day, but it’s easy to get caught up in what’s happening at work or at home. It’s hard to separate the path from the noise.

But today, I can try to be a blessing to everyone I meet. And if I fail today — and I will fail — I can try again tomorrow. In the meantime, I can hold hope in my heart that something wonderful is happening all those times I get it right, even if it’s far away, even if I’ll never see it.