“To the food-lovers of America: eat it up or give it up.”
This was a slogan that would change the world. Okay, maybe not, but I was pretty visionary and most certainly ambitious my junior year in high school. I racked up all the AP credits I could and got myself involved in more sports and clubs than I could manage. That year, my newest project was a bit different - it was service-minded. I had become increasingly convicted of the monstrous food waste happening all around me, and I was constantly reminded of it when I saw uneaten apples thrown out in the cafeteria or half-finished plates leftover in restaurants. How unfair is it that we have such an abundance of food while areas of the world still suffer serious hunger? Is it simply a distribution problem or something greater? With these kinds of thoughts running through my head, I decided to start a club at my school to serve the local need of food insecurity. I was eager to make an impact, but I was also dreaming of how this new club would be a legacy I could leave behind and, of course, another boost in my college applications.
My hunger awareness club was born my senior year. Our goal was to raise 20,000 cans or about 10 tons of food from September to June. I busied myself producing a video commercial, creating fun incentives to donate (who doesn’t like seeing pies in faces?), and just spreading the word. The year started slow and was stagnant at other times too, but we managed to end the year with a little less than 2,000 cans. It wasn’t bad, and it was hopefully the start of something great.
New year, new me?
I came to Duke University intending to join another service organization, but maybe something a little different. So, I ended up one Sunday afternoon sitting around a table at an interest meeting. The CEO of Simple Charity was sharing the mission statement of this group, “Compelled by God’s grace, Simple Charity supports trustworthy nonprofits that help global neighbors overcome poverty and flourish in their communities.” Each part of the mission statement was very intentional, but the first phrase stuck with me the most: compelled by God’s grace. This phrase was the motivator of everything else the mission stood for. It made me look back at my years in high school and asked, “What had motivated me to raise 20,000 cans?”
Before I answer this question, I want to take a step back and share the life lesson I learned during my senior year. Simply put, I learned that life is fleeting. I had been striving to get into a prestigious college for so long that when the college process was over, it was just over. That was it, and I asked, “Now what?” I would go to college and work hard there only to go to a better graduate school, then start all over in the workplace and work my way up the professional ladder seeking promotion after promotion. And then, that would be it. What was my purpose in what I was doing? This heart check was so valuable to me and it turned me to see how I actually wanted to live: seeking eternal things.
Now, back to that meeting table. What had motivated me in highschool was partly service and partly self-glory. But I now understood how futile that was. Hearing about giving out of gratitude for Jesus Christ was a refreshing wake up call that I much needed. I remembered that it’s looking to the cross and knowing more of this love that surpasses knowledge that compels me to serve. It’s worship to a God who is Holy and so apart from me because of my sin. It’s thanksgiving to a Savior who showed me that love is an active thing - He bridged this separation when I did nothing to deserve it. It’s gratitude for a Love that never ends, that is eternal.
It’s so easy to compartmentalize God’s love, my faith in it, and my works on this earth as separate components, but they are one and the same and flow together. Everything I do should be naturally rooted and established in love, and my belief in this love compels me to good works out of love. Being ambitious and visionary was not a bad thing, and raising canned foods for the local needs was surely a good thing, but God wants my heart first and foremost. I would give up 20,000 cans any day for 1 heart to be able to grasp the width, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ. And this 1 transformed heart could do so much more than 20,000 cans - being compelled by love and working in love - in this life and for eternity.