Poverty of Purpose

I attended a workshop a few years ago and when the subject matter turned to recruiting volunteers, the speaker went deeply into a subject he called the “new poverty.” As Jesus said, “the poor you always have with you,” (Matthew 16:11) referring to those short on financial resources. What the speaker was talking about, however, was not the absence of money that so many experience. His focus was the absence of another resource and discussed how this poverty was much more widespread in today’s world, and that is a shortage of time. Almost everyone, it seems, feels like they don’t have enough time. It’s an interesting topic and one that I’ll try to address in the future post.

But there’s another poverty that I’ve been discovering lately, and I think it’s related to the poverty of time, but it’s a bit more subtle. In the workshop I mentioned, the speaker was talking about the difficulty in getting people to volunteer their time when that is a resource that most don’t feel they have. Organizations of all kinds are struggling with a lack of volunteers.

But if the shortage of volunteers was due to the shortage of time people feel, then all organizations would experience a shortage of volunteers. Only that’s not the case. Some organizations have waiting lists for volunteers! This summer, three of our parishioners will be headed to the Antiochian Village, not as campers, staff, or the session priest. No, these three will have a different experience. Sure, they’ll enjoy the beautiful worship, the fellowship with other Orthodox Christians and fun meals together. But they’ll get up from those fun meals and wash the dishes for the 350 people they just ate with. Then some will head for the laundry room and do laundry for 4-6 hours. Not just 4-6 loads…4-6 hours of sorting, moving, folding. Others will weed and mulch around the church or welcome lodge. Then after already putting in what are considered “full-time” hours on a paying job, they’ll head back to the Dining Hall, set up for the coming crowd and after enjoying the “fine cuisine” that is camp food, they’ll get up and start washing dishes again.

Who are these crazy people that sign up to volunteer to do all this (and more)? Our intrepid Village Volunteers. In fact, so many people want to come and have this experience that volunteer spots get filled even faster than camper spots, and that’s saying something! And did I mention that some come for a week but most volunteer for TWO WEEKS! And in spite of all the sacrifice of time and effort, the experience is so rich that a year later, almost all of them will rush to get their applications in for those few coveted spots as volunteers for another session of camp at the Village.

So how can we square this waiting list of people who sign up to wash dishes for two weeks for free with the “poverty of time” that we assume is behind the struggle that most organizations have to find volunteers? The cause MUST be elsewhere. And I think this is the newest poverty: meaning. So many have spent so much pursuing their own interests, and many are beginning to feel a lack of meaning. Although this is not the only cause, the rising rates of drug and alcohol abuse, anxiety and depression can all be related to this lack of meaning people have feel in their lives. So many look at their lives and say “what’s it all for?”

There are a few important cures for this lack of purpose and value, but one of the most powerful is giving of one’s self to benefit another. At a meeting of ministry leaders last night, we observed that while a growing number of our parishioners are engaged in the various ministries of our parish, the “average parishioner” is still not involved. Our leaders talk of the difficulty in finding volunteers to run their important works. Our meeting focused on leading our ministries well so that we maximize the results and experience of our volunteers, and this is an important aspect of our growing ministries at St. Nicholas. As we do this, our hope is that more of our people will understand the value to their own lives when they give their time for others. It’s a commonly held feeling when people give of themselves that they feel they received more than they gave. Our team of parishioners who volunteered to build a home for a family in Mexico last summer were UNANIMOUS in this sentiment—we gave a family a home and still found a way to honestly say we received more than we gave.

So if you’re feeling this “poverty of purpose,” I would encourage you to keep an eye and ear open for opportunities to serve, either in our parish’s varied ministries or with others serving others in our community. We all feel the “poverty of time” that discourages us from committing to serve. And while that’s a reality with which we must deal, overcoming our poverty of purpose will more than make it worth the effort to juggle our schedules a bit, and bring added meaning and value to the life God has given each of us.