This is probably my favorite story/illustration of all time. I believe it is a story that circulates around YMCA day camps and the like as group devotional material. I had heard it sometime in the past but my brother retold it in a mission trip prep meeting in 2015 and I don’t think I’ll ever forget it again.
The Old Man and the Starfish
One day an old man was walking along the ocean shore, and thousands of starfish had washed up on the beach. As far as the eye could see, there was starfish upon starfish upon starfish. Sadly, the tides were receding and all of these starfish were being left behind on shore where they would eventually die. Then, one by one, the old man began leaning over and picking up the starfish and tossing them, one at a time, back into the ocean.
Watching this scene from a distance was a young man. Concerned at the futility of the old man’s effort to save more than a few of these starfish, the young man approached him. “Old man!” he says, “Why are you bothering to toss these few starfish back into the ocean? There are so many of them! You want be able to rescue them all! What you’re doing won’t amount to much. Why waste your time? What you’re doing doesn’t matter!”
Hearing the young man and reaching down for yet another starfish, he turns to him and holds the starfish for him to see and says, “It matters to this one.” And he tosses it back into the ocean and then reaches down for another.
The lesson is obvious. Our world is full of problems and needs. More problems than any one person could overcome on their own. We will never solve all the worlds problems or provide aid to all in need. But instead of being overwhelmed with all we can’t do and give up, we can look to the person and need nearest to us and do what we can for them. What we do will matter to that one.