None of us are called to be saviors. This seems simple enough, but for humanitarians who are doing "good things" for a living, the line between feeling like a helper and feeling like a savior can get blurry at times. Many Christians in the field carry an imaginary burden of responsibility to be a lifeline to people in need. They begin to see themselves as rescuers or saviors, and when they are inevitably overwhelmed by the extent of the world's pain and suffering, they bear that weight on their own, which can lead to hopelessness, depression, and burnout.
Learning how to approach the brokenness of the world without being immediately overwhelmed by it ourselves is a daunting task. Without grace, we will fail again and again. We need to constantly remind ourselves that it's impossible and unhelpful to try and bear the weight of the world even if we want to. It is not our role to do so, and it should not be confused with our calling. Greg Carmer put it well when he said, “A mature understanding of the unity of the body of Christ allows us to care about everything Christ cares about, but to carry only what he has given us to bear." Actively responding to calling—as opposed to need—is a way of working as the body of Christ that complements other parts. We are all parts of a united body, each called to participate in God's restorative work in our own unique ways. This prevents us from seeing ourselves as the sole providers or saviors to others and allows us to remain grounded in Christ.
Ultimately, God will never ask us to do what only he can do. He has lifted this burden off of our shoulders, and instead calls us to be instruments of his healing and restoration in the world. We can approach the pain and suffering of the world with the knowledge that we do not have the strength to right every wrong or heal every hurt—and that is okay. What we can do, is constantly take the posture of a receiver, not a giver. If God is the source of love and all that is good in the world, then it is only in receiving his gift that we can pass it on to others through our work. We can ask Jesus to teach us how to love with his love and shape our hearts after his. Dedicating ourselves to be instruments of his loving is one way that we can relinquish control and prevent ourselves from developing a savior complex.
What does shaping our hearts after Jesus’ look like? In Matthew 11:29, Jesus tells us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” The heart is the center of who we are. At the root of it, having a savior complex is a matter of the heart. It is a heart posture of pride instead of humility. When we shape our hearts after Jesus', we surrender our work to him in humility, recognizing that we are not the authors of renewal and transformation. We are instruments of his love, invited into this process by the transformative grace of God. It is only with this heart shaped after Christ's that Christians in development can contribute a better, well-rounded view of what it means to be a “humanitarian.”
Isaya Otsuka is an accelerated M.A. student at Wheaton College’s Humanitarian Disaster Institute. He earned his B.A. in business/economics and minor in anthropology in May of 2020 from Wheaton College.