Excerpts from “Letter to a Young Activist” by Thomas Merton

The past few weeks I have found myself pondering many things, and as I was reflecting on life today, and my spot in it, the words of Julian of Norwich kept making their way into my head: “All shall be will, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” For me, it is a reminder of Christ’s peace and sovereignty. That Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again, and nothing will stop that. Not me, not the loud shouts of a broken world, nothing.

There is a song that I am still trying to rediscover that puts these words to music, and in the search for those words I started reading through my travel blog, which was mostly from when I served through Young Adults in Global Mission in Palestine. What I ended up being most drawn to and moved by (a Spirit thing) was a post in which I shared some excerpts from Thomas Merton’s “Letter to a Young Activist”. These were words I needed to hear. May they be a blessing for you.

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps the results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything. 

…the big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen and we can share in them, but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which, after all, is not that important.  

The next step in the process is for you to see that your own thinking about what you are doing is crucially important. You are probably striving to build yourself and identity in your work, out of your work and your witness. You are using it, so to speak, to protect yourself against nothingness, annihilation. That is not the right use of your work. All the good that you will do will come not from you, but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God’s love. Think on this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it. 

The great thing, after all, is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth; and we can turn the best things into myths. If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the inevitable disappointments. Because I see nothing whatever in sight but much disappointment, frustration and confusion. 

The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do, but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do God’s will, we will be helping in the process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand…enough of this…at least is is a gesture…I will keep you in my prayers. All the best. In Christ, Tom.


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