There is a picture on my bookshelf, in a simple silver frame, one I treasure and dust and look at often. It is of me, almost a decade ago, surrounded by “my girls”, as I always called them, the three African refugee girls I volunteered with. I love this picture, for a variety of reasons.
One, I look really thin (back when I was in college, when I lived off of apples and PB&J’s, too poor to eat out or often).
Two, the girls look so young: squinting into the sun, back before they started wearing the headscarves, the youngest puffing out her cheeks to make a silly face.
And three: I love to look at it, because it is the closest I will ever get to those feelings of intense satisfaction and rightness again in my lifetime.
In the picture, I am smiling. My blonde hair is cut as short as a pixie, my well-meaning arms are draped over the girls. I am crowding them in for a hug, for a picture, for a snapshot that pointed to all the good I was doing. The sun was warm, the girls were learning English, we had a rare day to play at the park. In the picture, the good was outweighing the bad, the possibilities seemed endless, I saw visions of college and conversions and gratitude for my girls. In the picture, I still secretly believed that I was made of the same stuff as my heroes—the Joan of Arcs, the Mother Theresa’a—and all I needed to do to be successful in my ministry was try harder, throw myself in a little bit more. I still believed that I could bring about change with my own small determined hands.
I am jealous of the girl I used to be in that picture. I remember what it was like to think that I was saving the world.
This was my drug of choice for many years, my heroin, my whiskey. Saving the world, helping all the people, spreading the gospel both in word and deed. The picture on my shelf is a reminder of the dangers of my drug, of how self-serving and isolating it is, how it causes beautiful young refugees to become props in the story of me, how it becomes the only identifier of any value.
Like the addict misses their fix, I look longingly at the picture. When I am jonesing hard to take up my old savior complexes and crosses, I look and remember that the world was never mine to save anyways. It was too big of a burden, and I was nearly crushed in the process.
I look at the picture, and I am reminded of all that came with my own addiction: the relentless shame of not doing enough, the hysterical realizations that the world was unbelievably broken, the contempt for those who weren’t actively working as hard as me. I remember the loneliness, the isolation, the brittle and fragile pedestals I was creating in my pride.
But even as I remember all the lies I let simmer in my own heart for far too long—how God wouldn’t love me if I didn’t save everyone—I still crave that fix. To believe, even for a moment, an afternoon, the briefest snapshot of time, that I was of use to somebody.
I still miss it, every single day.