This year, I decided to change the world*. (I briefly considered donning my son’s superhero costume, but it was a little tight.)
For me, it was the budget cuts affecting disabled people. You may have a different issue burning in your heart: violence against women; poverty; abuse; war; adoption. Whatever the issue, these are my step-by-step instructions for changing the world*.
1. Weep and cry out to God.
In the run-up to the election, I couldn’t understand why the Coalition’s cuts to disability benefits weren’t being highlighted as an election issue. Disabled people have been hit by the cuts nine times more than the average person, and severely disabled people nineteen times more.
Meanwhile, on my social media timelines, I was reading heartbreaking stories of disabled people who’d had their benefits stopped and were really struggling, not only with chronic illness but now with money problems too. When I saw the election results, with the further promise of cuts, I cried.
All social justice begins in tears and prayer; all change begins with prophetic weeping. We all start in a position of helplessness before God, needing him to rend the heavens and come down. This is where I was on May 8th 2015, tear-stained and exhausted.
2. Distract yourself and do nothing.
On May 9th, I went out with my family to the beach. I needed a break from feeling heartbroken. Distraction is all part of the process, but it’s really tempting to stick at this stage. (Especially if it involves a good Netflix series.)
3. Get so desperate you do SOMETHING.
So often we don’t start a project of social justice because we want to fix everything, and we can’t. But often we can do something – give a little of our time, money or skills. It feels small, but it can make a huge difference. For me, it was a skill – writing – I wanted to use to campaign.
4. Give yourself permission to fail.
I knew, because of my chronic illness, that I had few personal resources. My grand ideas of creating a great campaigning organisation that would force the government to do a U-turn were likely to crash and burn. I stared hard at the humiliation of possible failure and decided to do it anyway.
5. Give yourself permission to be mediocre.
This is more insidious than the fear of failure. Most ventures are neither outright success nor failure. For perfectionists, mediocrity is an even bigger disgrace than abject failure, and it is a fear that needs to be overcome. For me, it was a sleep-deprived stupor on May 10th that enabled me to trick myself into being brave.
6. Ask people for help.
Contrary to Superman, saving the world is best as a team sport. Tentatively, I put a call out on Facebook – would anyone like to join me? Almost immediately, 100 people signed up to help. I was humbled by how many, with much greater experience at campaigning than me, were prepared to give of themselves.
7. Flail wildly.
(This is not necessarily part of it, but I did it anyway.)
8. Say what’s burning inside of you.
On May 17th, I wrote an open letter on the Archbishop Cranmer blog. I explained why I thought it was an issue Christians should care about, and invited people across the whole political spectrum to join the campaign. The thing exploded, and it received 13,500 views in the first 36 hours.
9. Deal with criticism.
Although most people – both right and left wing – were very supportive, the post attracted more than 600 comments, which were good, bad and ugly. Some engaged with the facts and arguments in a way that helped me better understand the mindset of those who think disabled people should not get help from the state, which was ultimately helpful to my cause. Others made snide personal swipes. At this point, we badly need good friends around us to whisper truths back into our hearts.
10. Discover you’ve not actually changed the world.
This sounds negative, but it isn’t. Whatever it is you decide you want to achieve, the chances are that you’ll always be a little disappointed because you won’t have changed as much as you would have liked. We are still as dependent on God as we were at the start.
But something will have changed. You haven’t changed the world, but you’ve changed a part of the world.
I may not have single-handedly forced the government to do a U-turn on disability benefits cuts, but as a result of my campaign, more Christians are concerned about the cuts affecting disabled people. More MPs have received letters asking them to work for a more Compassionate Britain; more people are aware of the issues.
It is, in the grand scheme of things, a tiny pebble in a very big lake, but even tiny pebbles can produce large ripples. I’ve discovered that whether it ends in success, failure or somewhere in the middle, it’s always worth trying to change the world*.
Tanya Marlow is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty. Founder of Compassionate Britain, her passions include social justice, very dark chocolate and laughing at her own jokes (not necessarily in that order). She writes honestly about suffering and searching for God at Thorns and Gold, tanyamarlow.com