Flinging Starfish- How to face overwhelming problems without shutting down


A story begins……There was once an old man who was taking a walk on the beach where he lived. As he walked in the mid day sunshine he noticed a little boy running frantically up and down the beach picking up starfish that had been beached by a high tide earlier, flinging them back into the cool water. The beach was covered with them and there was no way this one boy could get them all back into the water before the sun’s rays dried them up and killed them. Wanting to save the boy from wasting all his efforts, the old man stopped him saying, ” Son, you can’t possibly get all these starfish back into the ocean in time. You are using all your energy and it won’t even matter. Just accept that there is no way to save them and move on with your day.”


The young boy turned to the man, holding another starfish and never breaking his gaze flung it into the sea. Before he turned to continue his one man rescue operation, he replied, “It mattered to that one!”

I heard this story as a teenager and it has stuck with me ever since. I remember feeling so overwhelmed by so many problems in this world and not knowing how I could make any difference at all. But the truth of that simple  story resonated deep within me. I cannot do everything. But I can do something.

I am the mother of teenagers now. The world has not really gotten better. Oh sure, some things have improved over time. But the reality is brokenness just finds a new outlet. When we solve one problem another will take its place. If I’m not careful I can find myself wanting to stick my head in the sand and live as though my little corner of the world and my tribe are all that matters. Protect mine. Conserve my energy for problems I face, because after all, what difference can one mom from the suburbs really make in a dark and broken world?

And yet, Jesus calls me light. In fact, “a city on a hill” that is meant to bring hope into the darkness is what he says I am. Because my heart is the residence of his Holy Spirit, and he was the Light of the World, his light now shines out of me. If I’m willing.

I was walking out of the doctor’s office last week and a young woman was sitting with her two babies, presumably waiting for a ride. She looked young, and she looked tired. The kind of tired that does not just come from sleepless nights, but from stress and hard times. Her babies were dressed so sweetly and she clearly was attending to their needs. I watched with admiration, noticing she was not wearing a wedding ring, and thinking how hard being a young single mama is. I felt deeply moved by the scene and wondered if she had anyone encouraging her. Did anyone ooh and aah over her babies? Did anyone tell her she was doing a good job? Before I could really stop myself I just had to speak to her. I asked if I could take a peek at her little one in the carrier and made ridiculous baby talk with the girl in her arms.  I asked a little bit about them and then stood up and said, “your babies are beautiful. You are doing a great job.” I don’t know what kind of mama she is all the time, but in that moment I wanted her to know that I saw her taking care of her children and it was beautiful. I would tell you I don’t know if it mattered to her, but I could see in her eyes it did.

And another starfish found it’s way back to the water….

There are way too many times I just walk right by dying starfish on my way to my next meeting. I miss opportunities to be the light in someone’s darkness often. But that little exchange reminded me of something: I cannot do everything. But I can do something. And it matters. If I just focus on the people, and not on the magnitude of the problems, I can do something that matters. Loving others, being kind, offering help, sharing truth, giving food. They all matter. You don’t have to carry the weight of changing the world- Jesus did that for us. So now we are free to carry hope into the lives of the people who God puts in front of us. Every city, every town, every person is crying out to see real love displayed. You might look like a lunatic to the jaded and cynical among us, but to those whom you show love, you will look like Jesus.


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