Step Away from the Guilt

by Alece Ronzino on November 1, 2013

Step Away from the Guilt 01

I was worried I’d grown numb to it. Maybe I’d become calloused. Hardened. Immune.

Because poverty wasn’t affecting me like it used to.

When I faced it as a teenager—on mission trips to places like Nicaragua and Botswana—my eyes and my heart were opened to things I never knew existed in the world. I was wrecked to discover such unimaginable and inescapable poverty, and it messed with me. I’d return home and make all kinds of extreme commitments. I vowed to be less materialistic. I took radical stances with my “self-absorbed” Christian friends. I soapboxed about America’s obsession with excess. I volunteered more, and served wherever and whenever I could.

But as the aftershocks of my experiences with poverty wore off, so did my radical life changes. Until my next mission trip.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

It was a vicious cycle of the best intentions that did nothing more than fuel my need to continually strive to be better, do more, and—somehow, hopefully—be enough. I’m not saying I didn’t genuinely have compassion, conviction, and passion to live a life that makes a difference. I did. But it translated into a guilt-driven reaction to the extremes I saw and experienced, because I couldn’t reconcile the poverty I witnessed with the life I lived every day.

It was a nauseating roller coaster ride as I tried—and failed—to bridge the disparity between my abundance and their lack.

It was years after I moved to South Africa to serve in the poorest region of the country that I finally realized that those things can’t be reconciled or bridged. The contrasts will never make sense.

I mustn’t allow my guilt to force-feed my insatiable striving complex. Nor must I allow it to paralyze me into inactivity or apathy.

I finally learned to step off the roller coaster and actually engage in doing something that would truly make a difference. Not fueled by guilt, but by hope.

Step Away from the Guilt 02

I realized that it isn’t about being apologetic for what I have, giving everything away, or looking down on how much people spend at Starbucks. It is about stewarding what I have well—using it to serve, strengthen, and love others.

People often ask me how I could live and work for so long in a community of such dire poverty. “Do you just get used to it?” What they are really asking is the same thing I’ve asked myself: “Did you grow numb?”

And I see now that I didn’t. But somewhere in my 13 years of living in Africa, something did change in me.

I stopped feeling guilty about what I had and the “luck” of being born an American, and I started to feel grateful to be part of the solution.

The problems and challenges are enormous, but I am confident that we can all do something that makes a difference. In our own unique ways, with our own individual passions and talents, we can bring hope into places and hearts that gave up a long time ago.

Not because we feel guilty, but because we are compelled by the hope we ourselves have been given.

What’s been your experience with responding to poverty?

Alece RonzinoAlece Headshot

After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist, a freelance copywriter/editor, and the founder of One Word 365. She blogs occasionally but candidly about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Follow Alece on Twitter and visit her blog, Grit and Glory.

{Photos Source: Daniel C. White}

A previous post by Alece: Bring the Rain

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About Alece Ronzino

After pioneering and leading a nonprofit in South Africa for 13 years, Alece now lives in Nashville, TN. She is a Nonprofit Communications & Development Strategist and the founder of OneWord365. She blogs (occasionally, but candidly) about searching for God in the question marks of life and faith. Connect with Alece on Twitter, Instagram, and her blog, Grit and Glory.

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