A Letter to a Young (or Old) Activist
By Thomas Merton
Do not depend on the results when you are doing the sort of work, you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no results at all, if not perhaps results opposite of what you expect. As you get used to the idea, you start more and more to concentrate, not on the results but the value, the truth of the work itself. And there to a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down but it gets much more real. In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that save everything.
You are fed up with words, and I don’t blame you. I am nauseated by them sometimes. I am also, to tell the truth nauseated by ideals and causes, this sounds like heresy, but I think you will understand what I mean. It is so easy to get engrossed by ideas and slogans and myths that in the end you are left holding the bag empty of no trace of meaning in it. Then the temptation to yell louder than ever in order to make the meaning be there again by magic. Going through this kind of reaction helps you guard against this. Your system is complaining of too much verbalizing and it is right.
……The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen and we can share in them, but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important. The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about that what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself an identity in your work. All the good that you will do will not come from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think of this more and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you will be more open to the power that will work through you without you knowing it. The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth; and we turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of cause and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments, frustration, and confusion…….The real hope there, is not something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will we will be helping out in the process. But we will not necessarily know it before hand.