There's a buzz in our culture about "making a difference." Teenagers and young adults, especially, are drawn to and captivated by the concept of justice, of doing something to make the world a better place. This is a good thing! This is good because there is so much need in the world, there are so many problems to which we can offer a response. But what happens when "making a difference" becomes the heart of our ethical consciousness? What happens when we live to fix problems?
If you actually begin to survey the issues that are facing emerging generations, it's easy to get overwhelmed... and quickly! The fact is, there's so much, too much even in the life of an individual, for a real hope for change to stand to reason. The fact is, some of the best things we can do, some of the most loving expressions, might not actually accomplish much. We might not fix the problem. So if we are all about "making a difference," we might decide that those good things aren't worth the effort and eventually we may decide to stop doing any of it, because the need is too great and we can't effect change.
Jesus said to his disciples, "come follow me. I'll make you fishers of people." He did not say, "follow me and you'll make a difference." Jesus said, "if you want to be my disciple, take up your cross..." Jesus didn't call his disciples to an affect-oriented life--a life of making a difference--Jesus called his disciples to a certain way of being in the world. Did they make a difference? Actually, against all odds, they did! But they were not called to do, they were called to be... and they were called to become.
We too are called by Christ to become...
A focus on what we are becoming frees us from the "affect-orientation" of our culture, the well-intentioned obsession with "making a difference" as the primary qualifier of our social-ethical discernment. Such pragmatism is a distinct alternative to a Christian understanding of discipleship, indeed it has at least contributed to the incongruence of the church's action in the world (i.e. trying to communicate a gospel of peace through violence). We've relented from following Jesus to those places that don't seem efficient or effective.
Jesus invited one by saying, "sell all you have and give it to the poor." The truth is, selling all you have and giving it to the poor might not make a huge difference (although it could) in a world as overwhelmed by poverty as ours. But, it would surely constitute a different way of being in the world... it may constitute discipleship. Loving your enemies might seem like a very ineffective way of solving problems in the world, but there's no doubt that it would do something different inside you.
'Becoming' frees us to do crazy things, discerning them not by the standards of prudence but by the standard of discipleship. Whether or not it will cause change... doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not it is a reflection of God's reign in the world, whether or not it embodies the relentless love of God. So be free to sell your possessions, to love your enemies, to welcome strangers, to feed the hungry, to work for way less than your parents expect you to make... you may discover that becoming a disciple of Christ may actually make a difference you never could have imagined.