In my final year of high school, my friend [shout out to Matt!] and I were nominated "Most Likely to Change the World" by our classmates. A photo of us holding an inflatable globe [I think?] is forever memorialized in the pages of the 2009 yearbook.
At eighteen, I was enthusiastic with passionate convictions - some sort of aspiring activist, I suppose. When I applied to university, I was accepted to this crazy/cool/weird program where I could practically make my own degree. It was nebulous and bizarre to describe, so when asked what I was planning to study, I'd say, "Changing the world!"
At the time, this statement conveyed my passion - my desire to go places and do things and bring change and hope and healing to hard places. But now this strikes me as a fairly proud and naive, and also an incredibly "millennial" thing to say. For better or for worse, it seems this sort of attitude - an awareness and sensitivity to our impact in the world and a boundless hope and deep-rooted belief that we can effect change - lies at the heart of us millennials. Certainly this is good, but we also have a lot to learn. Like, who am I to think that I can change the world? As if I have all the answers to what people need? That's like "Colonialism 101". Cringe.
A few years down the road, I feel quite differently about the statement. Sure, I still have enthusiasm and conviction, but it's different. I'm aware that I don't have all the answers, and I'm conscious that I'm not actually capable of all that much. Call it a "quarter life crisis" or "wake up call" or whatever, but I guess I'm realizing that I'm not going to change the world, the world is actually changing me.
As ever, Henri Nouwen has some good thoughts on this.
"This moment when Jesus is handed over to those who do with him as they please is a turning point in Jesus' ministry. It is turning from action to passion. After years of teaching, preaching, healing, and moving to wherever he wanted to go, Jesus is handed over to the caprices of his enemies. Things are now no longer done by him, but to him. He is flagellated, crowned with thorns, spat at, laughed at, stripped and nailed naked to a cross. He is a passive victim, subject to other people's actions. From the moment Jesus is handed over, his passion begins, and through this passion he fulfills his vocation.
"It is important to me to realize that Jesus fulfills his mission not by what he does, but by what is done to him. Just as with everyone else, most of my life is determined by what is done to me and thus is passion. And because most of my life is passion, things being done to me, only small parts of my life are determined by what I think, say, or do. I am inclined to protest against this and to want all to be action, originated by me. But the truth is that my passion is a much greater part of my life than my action...
"It is good news to know that Jesus is handed over to passion, and through his passion accomplishes his divine task on earth. It is good news for a world passionately searching for wholeness."
The passive places - the hard things thrown at me to experience and muddle through - are the real grit life. These places have been and are the trenches of my identity, the very outworking of my character and calling.
And Nouwen notes that the same was true for Jesus. And in fact, it was through his passion that he fulfills his vocation. And that's a really affirming thought: that in all this, even in our passion, God is still at work shaping us, polishing us, calling us up and out of ourselves and into His very life and purpose.
Certainly we still have agency, and action is important. But we talk about that a lot. We make an effort to act consciously and we work hard to be better. But to know that the passive times matter and have meaning too, well, that's just good news. And, actually, it's the Good News: Someone Else accomplishing for me what I cannot accomplish for myself.
What would happen if we lived soft, malleable lives of repentance and forgiveness? What would happen if we allowed ourselves to be changed by the world? Maybe then the world would change.