Intentionally Pursuing Justice as a Young Person

I recently corresponded with a former church member who now lives on the west coast. This young woman is oriented toward justice in a few specific ways and she was wondering about how these commitments will play out in the coming years. I shared the following thoughts about how someone, especially a younger person, might purposefully engage in this sort of life now, rather than waiting until some arbitrary point in the future. I’m not exactly an expert on this but I’ve seen too many intelligent folks either postpone their passions indefinitely or jump in haphazardly only to wear out quickly.  

Here are some of the thoughts I shared with her. What would you add to the list?

1. You don’t have to have it figured out yet.

I think too many people don’t do anything because they feel they don’t understand the big picture or have a long-term strategy. That’s OK. You’re young enough that it’s very appropriate to not to have a complete strategy yet.

2. Do the thing in front of you.

Again, a lot of folks don’t do anything because the things in front of them seem too small, or not strategic enough. But my guess is that most of the justice-minded folks you admire didn’t start off with something huge. Rather, they took a lot of small steps that eventually led to bigger, more comprehensive actions.

3. Follow-up on the small things.  

Not every initiative/action/event/strategy has to lead to something else, but a lot of time they will. If there are natural ways to follow-up on a step you’ve taken, then do it. It’s amazing to me how many folks don’t do this. They put a lot of energy into something and once it’s finished they never come back to it.

4. Develop your network now.  

You’ve had the chance to get to know a lot of smart, passionate people. When it’s appropriate, reach out to them. Send a quick email letting them know you read something of theirs. Volunteer to help them out when possible with the small, unglamorous things that a lot of folks wouldn’t be interested in. You get the idea. It’s funny, I think those of us who are more introverted are naturally better networkers. We may be more likely to send that follow-up email, or to correspond long-distance. These sorts of relationships have been hugely influential in my life.

5. Play to your strengths.  

It’s mostly a waste of our time to try to copy someone else’s personality, strength, passion, expertise, etc. You are your own person who has a wealth of talents, education, experience (including the painful stuff), culture, family history, and perspective to draw from. Lead with that. And remember, just because you’re the only one in the room talking about an injustice that deserves a response doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Perhaps just called.

6. Be open.  

Sometimes the way God leads us to apply our calling to the world’s pain isn’t a straight line. Our own transformation and sanctification is tied up in this process. God wants to mess you up (in a good way!) even as he uses you to embody and proclaim his kingdom. What appears to you as a detour or distraction now may, in fact, end up being a critical part of how the Holy Spirit is leading and equipping you now.

7. Take care of yourself.  

Way too many justice-minded people are horrible about this. Ask this question: How can I live now so as to continually say yes to God’s call. Take a Sabbath. Watch a movie. Take a nap. And don’t feel guilty about this.

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David Swanson
David Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church [Bronzeville] on Chicago's South Side. He blogs often and has authored countless articles for prominent Christian publications.