This is an original post by Virginia Vroblesky, co-author (with Nick Spencer and Robert White) of Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living.
Virginia Vroblesky is the former national coordinator of A Rocha USA. She is the author of numerous articles and The Gift of Creation: A Study Guide on the Environment.
I have recently been reading American Canopy: Trees, Forests, and the Making of a Nation by Eric Rutkow. While I relished the new facts and its fresh view of our national history, underneath I found it a bit disheartening. There was our history of logging, rapaciously and systematically cutting forests from coast to coast for short-term economic gain; tales of heroic yet failed efforts to stop environmental threats such as Dutch Elm disease, and the conflict between economics and species conservation. Guiding principles changed from generation to generation based on the prevailing world view.
It had been a bad day. I am a caregiver for my mom, who has dementia. I try with all my might to stem the decline of her memory. While there are bright spots, I cannot restore what is gone or keep more from leaking away.
That day, I was also thinking about climate change, the huge issue that faces our generation. The underlying challenges are very similar to those that confront our relationship to our forests: economics, changing world-views, environmental problems. I had just read about the failure of a promising electric car company. I started to wonder if any of our efforts, against climate change, for forests, or for my mom, mattered. What difference does it make to try to stand in the gap? Was the world, and my life, only going to be swallowed up in sadness or futility?
But I was reminded of a wonderful verse in Psalm 27: “I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (v. 13 NASB). Our responses to climate change and caregiving are similar: at times we wear out. The booklet Help for the Caregiver: Facing the Challenges with Understanding and Strength by Michael R. Emlet says that three signs of caregiver burnout are anger, fear, and the tendency to take on responsibilities that are not our own.
Paul David Tripp, in Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, fleshes this out. Each of us has a “circle of responsibility,” a God-given arena with tasks we are biblically called to do. Often this is clear. What do our lives touch? How are we called to respond to these opportunities or challenges? We also have a “circle of concern,” areas that we care about but have to entrust to God.
Caregivers often confuse these two circles, neglecting what we are called to do while worrying over what we have to leave to God. My mom’s life is in God’s hands, but right now I have the opportunity to do good to her. In a similar way, I may not be able to negotiate international treaties on climate change, but there are things I can do and leave the long-term results up to God.
One of the most helpful aspects of working on Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living was the opportunity to learn from Robert White and Nick Spencer. Using Isaiah 40–66, they developed a series of eight principles for sustainable living, based not on whims or changing philosophy but on biblical guidelines. They explored how these principles can guide us as we make decisions within our own “circle of responsibility” regarding climate change. Thinking about this drove me to reread Isaiah 40–66, which encouraged me that God does not give up but gives strength to those who don’t give up on him.
The book American Canopy, by the way, is not all bad news. It is filled with the difference individuals have made in every era, from Franklin Roosevelt, whose practice of planting trees on his own property directly led to his creation of the Civilian Conservation Corps, to the many, sometimes small-scale, efforts to counter climate change through reforestation.
My hope is that those made in the image of God might use the strength God supplies to care for the world he has made and benefit the lives that their own lives touch. May it be so with caregiving as with climate change.