Reflecting on a familiar question: “Why am I even doing this?”

Wrestling with the work we are doing: is it effective, necessary, or a waste of time? (Photo by Anil Sharma,

By Ryan LeBlanc

“Why am I even doing this?”

I was having coffee with a friend of mine, who has put in a lot of hours serving the poor and vulnerable, which was what we were talking about.

I think we were trying to figure out how much longer we were going to do this, or where we should put our energy, or whether we were actually doing God’s will. Or, maybe we were just asking ourselves, “What now?”

What struck me about this question was not that it came out of the blue. It was not a strange question to me. In fact, the reason it stuck in my heart is that it is such a familiar question. It is, in fact, the same question I have asked myself at what might be the “beginning” of my work of charity in my life, or even before.

Flash back to the first month of my journey with restorative justice ministry, years ago. After the adrenalin rush of my first few visits, the third session in prison was not exciting to me that evening. I was tired. It was cold. I was not friends with the inmates, and they were not what I recognized as friendly.

Sitting in my driveway before leaving, I asked exactly my friend’s question. “Why am I even doing this?” Was it necessary? Was it effective? Was it appreciated? Was I not committing what might be the cardinal sin of my culture, wasting my time? The car was started, and warming up, but I wasn’t sure if I was going to put it into drive.

Even then, that wasn’t the first time I’ve asked that question. I think I asked it before my ideas to serve my neighbour even got started, and I asked it that day with my friend at coffee. It seems like a question that is always with us.

When we open ourselves to learning and engaging with the poor and vulnerable, we immediately see problems that are bigger than us. Admitting my powerlessness is yet another cardinal sin in my culture. So far in my life, I have done what we have all done to avoid it: I averted my gaze and distracted myself from the suffering that our collective sin produces. I also at times have done what many of us have done: I’ve latched on to a program or an agenda and convinced myself it would solve all the problems if everyone else just bought into it.

But I think we all know that distraction and ideology do not address human suffering better than admitting our powerlessness. In fact, Christ crucified is about the only way I could ever learn that human powerlessness is the one path by which Divine healing can come into the world.

But of course, that brings us exactly back to our question. “Why am I even doing this?”

That day at coffee, I asked my friend, “What do you feel when you look at the next five years?” I fully expected to hear a story of winding ministry down and pulling back from it.

“Doing this work makes me feel alive.”

Packing it in and withdrawing from the poor seems like a natural, normal thing to do, yet, if we are really honest, it is actually separating ourselves from life. From my life. From Christ’s life.

Maybe a poorer person comes to have a material need met, like food or clothing. And maybe that beautiful child of God meets my friend, who is delighted to see them, to engage with them, to be in their presence. Not because it’s the nice thing to do or because following the program fixes the problem, but simply because they deserve a loving moment, simply because they exist.

My car was warm-ish. I thought, “Why am I even going to prison when I don’t have to?”

And the One who is always with me, who always delights in my presence as long as I allow it, said that when I visit those in prison, I visit Him.

“Okay,” I said. “I can do that.” I put the car in gear.



Ryan LeBlanc is the Teacher Chaplain and Catholic Studies Department Head at E.D. Feehan Catholic High School in Saskatoon. He is also discerning the permanent diaconate in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon.