The story of the starfish

Seen recently on a sign outside a church in a nearby town...

“You can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.”

During this Lenten season we are frequently reminded about service. We read stories about how Jesus served others constantly during his three year ministry.

But Jesus was just one man. And despite His eternal grace and healing powers even He didn’t touch everyone, didn’t make an impact on everyone.

There are so many people in the world, now well over seven billion. And the list of people with various problems would probably take more space than this website could handle.

Drug abuse, opioids, alcoholism.

Mental illness, fatigue, various forms of stress.

Lost a job, lost a marriage, lost a child or parent.

Health concerns, no health insurance, mounting expenses.

Mental abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse.

Hopelessness, fear, uncertainty.

(Fill in the blank: ___________________________________________)

The list is simply overwhelming. Your brain goes into overload on how to handle it.

There’s the old riddle about “how do you eat an elephant?” There’s no way to chomp down a whole elephant, right? The answer to the riddle is “one bite at a time.” Sure, makes sense.

But we’re not talking about an elephant here. More like a brontosaurus dinosaur. Or the entire universe, a BIG place.

So if we can’t help a lot of people, we should just forget it? Just can’t make a significant difference so why even try?

There’s a famous story adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley that echoes this thought completely...

“Once upon a time there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.

One day as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so he walked faster to catch up.

As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young girl, and that what she was doing was not dancing at all. The young girl was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects and throwing them into the ocean.

He came closer still and called out, ‘Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?’

The young girl paused, looked up, and replied, ‘Throwing starfish into the ocean.’

‘I must ask then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?’ asked the somewhat startled wise man.

To this the young girl replied, ‘The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them in, they’ll die.’

Upon hearing this the wise man commented, ‘But young girl, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can’t possibly make a difference!’

At this, the young girl bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean.

As it met the water she said, ‘It made a difference for that one.’

Just one starfish on that vast beach of who knows how many starfish. The “big picture” here is simply too overwhelming to comprehend. No way to make a difference.

But maybe our view as individuals shouldn’t always be on the “big picture.”

Instead perhaps we each need to focus on the “little picture.” That doesn’t get any publicity like the famous “big picture” does, but it’s probably much more effective.

Jesus calls on all of us to serve others as He once served. And sometimes that means humbling ourselves in the role of a servant.

Imagine the scene when Jesus, the leader of his group of disciples, suddenly grabbed a towel and a basin of water and washed the feet of his followers. That’s something only a lowly servant would do. And He did it without any reservation.

The disciples were stunned – why is the Messiah lowering himself to the role of a servant? They still didn’t understand that their primary role was to serve others. And 2,000 years later most people still don’t understand.

And perhaps it’s because we’re so overwhelmed with the tsunami of problems today, which to many of us seems to be growing.

Violence, shootings, drug addiction. Poverty, family strife, public arguing and posturing.

How can one person POSSIBLY make a difference?

By remembering the starfish.

When life gives you that opportunity – and it always does – strive to help that one person, that one family, that one small group.

Helping only one person or family or group may seem humbling, too small, who cares? But someone will care.

And if even one person cares, or it makes a difference for just one person, we have followed His call. And we’ve made a difference.

You can’t help everyone but everyone can help someone.

From George Churchgoer