Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin
– James 4:17 (NRSA)
Sin is a loaded word so to help put this verse in perspective, the original word Sin in Greek means “failure, being in error, missing the mark”
Action or Inaction – oftentimes we don’t get to see the results of either. We don’t realize how an act of kindness, small or large, makes a difference even when we don’t get to see how. Similarly, for those opportunities in which we fail to take action, we rarely glimpse the consequences. One of the lessons that keeps popping up for me this year is to not only recognize the opportunities to take action to do something good in the world, but to act on them. I don’t want to be a person who speaks my values [such as caring about the earth, caring for animals, for people, for the sanctity of life] yet when an opportunity is presented to act in accordance with my values, I turn the other way and hope someone else will be the one who steps up.
As I’ve been praying on this, that my actions will align with my values, God has sent many opportunities along. While there were some opportunities that I took action on such as picking up a piece of trash, or feeding stray, starving cats, there were also just as many that I didn’t take action on. An example was when I was driving to church during a downpour. I saw a man walking on the sidewalk, no umbrella, completely drenched. Meanwhile, I had 2 umbrellas in my car and I thought I should pull over and offer him one. Even knowing the right thing to do, I continued driving for stupid reasons such as being late for church, what if I freak him out by pulling up next to him, what if he refuses my offer? I was kicking myself over that moment of indecisiveness and failure to do something helpful for someone. I had to recognize my missed opportunity and pray that God keeps working on me to give me the courage to move past indecision and act. Praying that if I have the ability to do something that is right, there should be no hesitation, fear, or indecision; that I should just do it. As far as I know, the consequence of this inaction was this man ended up further soaked.
What if the consequence for our inaction results in something worse than being soaked? What about when we experience the consequence of our inaction? Well, a month after the umbrella incident, I experienced a brutal consequence firsthand. I was rushing to work as usual, for no apparent reason. I had no meetings to get to but I am so used to that feeling of being rushed in the morning that it has become part of my morning vibe/routine. As I was a few minutes from work, about to round a corner on a 25 mph road, the car in front of me swerved. I quickly saw why: a baby turtle was running out into the road. Yes I know turtles are slow creatures but this little one was moving faster than any turtle I’ve seen move before. I had a split second decision to make: do I pull over, grab the turtle/walk with the turtle until it gets to safety? Or, do I hope that the turtle makes it across OK or that someone else will do the right thing and stop to help the turtle?
Unfortunately, I chose the 2nd option. When I made it to work, I was so upset that I didn’t take a few minutes to help that turtle because I was rushing for no reason or because it was oh so minorly inconvenient. I was mad at myself that while I value the sanctity and safety of life, I did nothing to honor that value by taking action. And even if I had some meeting to get to at work, again, my value to protect life and its importance should trump anything at work, any day. So, I turned back around and drove to the spot my failure to act occurred. I was praying I wouldn’t see the turtle because maybe that meant it made it home safely. Maybe someone had stopped to help. But instead I saw the poor baby turtle dead on the road. I was so distraught. While many factors contributed to that turtle dying like it going onto the road, for cars/roads cutting through its home, other people not stopping – I was a contributing factor in its death. That turtle could still be alive if I had taken action. This hit me incredibly hard. Seeing this consequence was burned into my mind and a very painful experience.
I don’t like it but it seems it is the painful experiences that will either shake us awake to change something in our lives/in our souls or we numb it out and keep heading down the road to nowhere. Seeing my inaction result in an animal dying was devastating enough for me to vow that I will not miss these opportunities anymore. I will override that voice that says “it can be done tomorrow, you’re late for work, you don’t have time, someone else will do the right thing, you’re too tired, you don’t have spare money to donate, it’s inconvenient, that person might reject your act of kindness and therefore be rejecting you” with “today is the day, right now is the only moment I have and it could be my last, this act of kindness could save a life or even just make someone’s day a little brighter, just do it.”
I wish the turtle incident never happened. But it did, and I had to forgive myself for having a part in its death. All I can do now is do better the next time, and the time after that, and so on. If during my next opportunity, those sneaky indecisive thoughts try to paralyze me, I will remember that turtle so I can overcome indecision, be a person of integrity and do not hesitate to take action.