Photo by beau-foto
“Action springs not from thought, but from readiness for responsibility.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I was pleasantly surprised to see a Bonhoeffer quote at the top of a recent daily announcement email from my daughter’s middle school. I was also convicted, as it brought to mind all the inaction in my life and made me look more closely at what’s behind it. Of all the reasons I don’t act in my life—a lack of time, resources, energy, you name it—it’s an over-abundance of thinking that is most often responsible for keeping me stuck, right where I am.
I love thinking at great length about things, even when the process is hard and gnarled. I love to strategize and plan, to stack pros and cons in opposing buckets of a balance scale to see how they compare. I can easily become obsessed with the process of playing out various scenarios, speculating which ones will blossom and which will crash in the most spectacular fashion.
And more than anything, I like to think that all this thinking is smart and wise and practical. I like privately commending myself for it—for being so careful, thoughtful, and logical. Of course I do—we’re all skilled at finding justifications for our habits and obsessions. It’s possible I have even been known to tell myself that all this thinking is a part of Waiting and Trusting in the Lord, and that my “patience” will be rewarded at some “right” time down the road.
But maybe all that so-called patience and careful thinking are really just fancy ways to dress up fear. That’s the idea that settled in my mind after reading the Bonhoeffer quote, and as it settled there, it felt like truth. It wasn’t a truth that said “stop thinking,” it said, “Stop letting your thinking get in the way of your doing—stop hiding behind it and using it as an excuse. Stop pretending like all the thinking has to happen before any doing can commence.”
Because devoting weeks to an internal debate about the best next steps for my book project won’t get anything written. Conversing endlessly with friends about the pros and cons of various approaches to gun legislation won’t keep our kids safe in their schools. Having a ready answer as to why I, as a Christian, support same sex marriage will not bring about necessary changes and justice. Only being ready to take responsibility, as Bonhoeffer says, will result in meaningful action. I need to think AND do, all at once. I need to try something, even if it’s not perfect, and yes, I need to keep thinking as I go, making adjustments and then trying and doing some more.
It’s been more than a week since President Obama’s inauguration, but I can’t write about all this doing that needs to happen without including my favorite part of his inaugural address:
Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.
For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay…. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.
Yes. We don’t have to have it all figured out before we do something. We don’t have to have every single step mapped out before we can make meaningful progress moving forward. We just need readiness for responsibility, and action.