Having Faith Even When Action Feels Impossible


I have found the last few weeks hard to deal with and to process, and I know I am not alone. The situation in Ukraine has dominated our TV screens and social media accounts and the escalating humanitarian emergency has been impossible to avoid. On top of this, I have been painfully aware that what is happening in Ukraine is not unique – every day war and conflict are devastating the lives of ordinary people in several countries around the world and it can feel impossible to know how best to act in the face of these atrocities. I want to make it clear to anyone reading this who is feeling overwhelmed or struggling to deal with the state of the world at the moment, that you are not alone - and if you need to turn off your TV or your social media channels for a few days and take a step back then that is OK.  This is not apathy, this is self-care. Ensuring you look after yourself is the best way to ensure you can then help others.

From a personal point of view, the past few weeks have been especially hard as I’ve been navigating the emotional fallout that comes from having someone you love caught up in a warzone and feeling powerless to help them. Someone I’ve been friends with for 15-years is from Kyiv. She is still currently there with her parents and her dog, determined to stay in her home with the people she loves. I don’t mind admitting that I am frustrated by the fact that, despite having over 16-years' experience in engaging in social justice work relating to human rights abuses and conflict, I am currently at a loss of how I can help her. I am so used to being able to spring into action - writing campaign letters, going on marches, pushing for some kind of change. In previous situations I have always known, at least in part, what needs to happen. I’ve always been aware of what the ‘ask’ is. This feels different, because as much as I want the world to act, I understand completely the well-founded worries of what involvement could lead to (although as a staunch campaigner against nuclear weapons I deplore the reasons why those worries exist in the first place).

As a result, I have been reflecting on what it means to live a life of faith in action when taking action feels impossible. One thing that is abundantly clear to me is the importance of prayer. However, as anyone who has been part of my Social Justice is Faith in Action workshop will know, prayer is not something that comes easily to everyone, myself included. While both prayer and action are incredibly important as we navigate our experiences of faith and social justice, we often fall into two categories – those who feel more comfortable taking action, or those more comfortable praying. I am definitely the former. I have particularly struggled with forming my own prayers in the wake of the events over the last few weeks. Either I feel overwhelmed with the scale of the problem, or I am barely holding it together. However, the good news is that we do not have to pray alone, nor do we have to form the words ourselves. Hundreds of organisations are putting on prayer meetings in the wake of the conflict in Ukraine, while others are publishing daily prayers. If, like me, you want to pray but this does not come as easily to you then these resources could be your friend (and here at SCM we have created a collection of these resources to share with you and written some prayers to help guide you). The other important thing to remember is that God hears us even when our words are not perfectly formed – so when my prayers come out as tears God hears that just as clearly as if I had uttered a coherent sentence.

I’ve also been reflecting on how, although it might sometimes feel like action is impossible, this is not necessarily so. While I might not know what I want to do about resolving the conflict and therefore what to do about this, I do know how I want the world to respond to the humanitarian situation – with love and compassion. I want refugees, not just from Ukraine but from anywhere, to be welcome and treated like loved and valued citizens. I want aid donations to go to where they are most needed. I want proper psychological support for children who have fled warzones. These are all tangible things I can campaign for.

The final thing that the last few weeks has reaffirmed to me is that while my own faith in action journey may be personal, I am not alone. I have found it incredibly helpful to talk to people about how I am feeling – drawing strength from colleagues and friends and those who remind me that I alone am not expected to fix the world’s problems. God may call us to act, but we are not expected to act alone. Nor will we be held accountable when we feel overwhelmed or unable to act for whatever reason. Recognising and responding to social injustice is hard. There are going to be times when we see evil being done but feel powerless to do anything about it. When this happens, please remember that this is not a personal failing – it is a very human response to the incomprehensibly cruel and incredibly unnecessary suffering of innocent people. It is a human response we all feel at some time or another, but with it we can still move forward – even though our actions might be incredibly limited and restricted.