“I want to be great or nothing.” ~ Louisa May Alcott
When I was about to transfer to the University of Georgia I discovered the above quote. It summed up my soul. Lousia May Alcott, author of Little Women, was great…. awesome: a young woman who helped support her family with her gift with language. She was an abolitionist, a feminist and died a spinster. Of course I wanted to be like her. I had been raised to dream big. My sweet Daddy wrote me a card saying, “You’ve left a large hole in Young Harris, whatever you do, I know you will be GREAT!”
So I set out to see what I was going to be GREAT at!
How do we define greatness? Well, I ran foolhardy into a degree that I was terrible at because I had wild ambitions of being a world famous journalist: an investigative reporter that would expose religious persecution and demand the world take notice. I would win a Pulitzer for religious writing, (unheard of!) and all my high school persecutors would eat crow….. all while I brought fame to the name of Jesus. Right? This is how I defined “greatness”: World Fame.
We all know that story detoured dramatically and now, embedded in my late 20’s I am a wife, mother and about to enter my 7th year of teaching. I live in a subdivision and each morning I wrestle kids into and out of uniforms and a sedan (NOT A MINIVAN!) and struggle to make the deadline of parent contacts and grades and my own seminary assignments rather than an editor who is pushing so my story can be on the front page of the NYTimes tomorrow morning.
And most days I am OK with this. I know with a soul, gut knowledge that God placed me where I am. He reached down, carved out a CodyandNathan sized hole in Milledgeville and put us here. On purpose, With purpose….
But what is that purpose? Where is my greatness? Where is my fame?
Since I believe Christ calls us to excellence in all we do that must mean that I am to be a rock. star. teacher…. BE EPIC! as one co-worker encourages me to be. And I want to. Don’t get me wrong. I may be a piddly teacher in middle Georgia known to NONE of the world, but I want my administrator to think I’m awesome. I
want, crave to be “Teacher of the Year” before I retire. I want to develop my craft, make a difference and……I want people to notice. Isn’t this what American society teaches us as children. BE GREAT, or you are nothing.
And this is because I am a victim of society and Americanized theology. I sweat Protestant work ethic. When students produce….lazy….. I am overcome with an impulse to use my self-defense tactics in an aggressive fashion. We have been taught that our faith and professional ambition mesh together nicely leading us to success, wealth, possibly fame all framed by a workable love of Jesus.
And guess what? I’m learning that’s not true.
And I wish someone would have told me.
I wish, when I went to college, our BCM speakers weren’t all AWESOME. (Don’t get me wrong I love throwing out that I met David Platt all the way back in 2005, before he was nationally known, but MAN! Again, famous….for loving Jesus.)
I wish someone would have emphasized, do everything for the glory of the God who made you, even if its becoming a soccer mom. Now, I must clarify, there is NOTHING wrong with being a stay at home mom, or whatever Mom and that God honors that. Just like he honors any other profession where it is done with excellence and in such a way that people meet Christ. The point here is that …… I am 28 and I just made peace with this.
So college kids, about to graduate…… you might not be huge. You might not be AWESOME! You might be like me and get a degree you never use and be put into the only profession that makes sense for you without any training because ITS WHAT GOD WANTS YOU TO DO!!!
For those of you not college students…. same rules apply. We might never be famous. And that’s cool. (This totally makes me think of the Bowling for Soup song, 1985…. but I was born in 1985…..so….)
This week a fleeting opportunity to advance in my teaching career opened up. And before I knew it, the opportunity was gone. I prayed saying, “Lord I truly want to be in the position that will bring you glory and keep me in your will….” A little while later, I discovered I wasn’t even considered, despite the fact I felt I was qualified, and more the ready to fill this role with passion and excellence. Instead I was overlooked….. and I let my feelings get hurt.
In prayer, silence and begging God to change my heart I was forced to consider my motivations and the glaring theological fallacy I have been clinging to, to guide my life.
I wanted this so that I could be “great” in my school community. Of course I would strive to honor God in the process, but I must not have really meant it when I said “I will gladly serve where YOU place me.” My worldly, professional aspirations and my heart faith find themselves in direct opposition to each other. I have continued to buy into the fallacy of the sacred versus the profane: a man-made delineation that God does not see or honor.
we I choose greatness for God or greatness for our my job?
This past week our church took a depressing turn and delved into King Solomon’s rant about life being meaningless. The gist is this: my life may not matter in the long run. Despite my desperate desire to be noticed and someday be paid to preach and teach and wallow in literary criticism and how it converges with theology, that may not be God’s plan for my life. He may desire that I work for 25 more years in a small special education classroom serving students that will probably never receive acknowledgement, much less notoriety from anyone. In fact…. I should count on it.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” ~ Matt. 20:16
But….. if I were truly honest: I may not care about being great in heaven. If I just make it I’m cool. I would really rather to be great on Earth.
And I realize this was how I was living my life. And wow! what pride, what sin does this inevitably lead to?! Jesus warned us of this very sentiment.
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. ~Matthew 6:24
My master may not be money, but it could be public accolade. And what if I finally reached “GREATNESS” as defined by the world?
For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? ~ Matthew 16:26
Is my soul worth a pat on the back from my coworkers, or another line on my resume?
And today I counseled a close friend, someone whose soul mirrors mine, despite our very different circumstances and I shared this truth:
Our purpose is to love God. Everything else does not matter, will not matter. My name will not be in textbooks and my boss will never truly know that I am an AWESOME educator. And this does not define me. If you are homeless and love God, OK. If you are a multi-millionaire CEO and love God, good for you. Your job is not your purpose and it does not define you. We are created by God to love Him. Yes, he gives us specialized gifts, but unless he puts a specific call on your life there are any number of jobs or careers in which you can use those gifts, love God and please Him. It’s just like the misguided belief that there is ONE person on earth for you to fall in love with and marry. There are probably a million people you are compatible with but when you choose one, you choose to love that one person for life and please God through that relationship. Stop worrying about the judgement of others. If you are unemployed for a while, if you live with “open hands” and grace, extending grace to others, despite your circumstances you will fulfill your purpose, and God will DELIGHT in you.
As long as I share Christ and love God regardless of my professional circumstances and more importantly raise my children to love a “Great GOD!” I will have fulfilled my purpose.
So, you might not be great either.
Love God. Passionately. Do everything with excellence for Christ. You can do great things. Some of you will. Some of you will become evangelists, CEOs,
possibly politicians, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, ….educators (all the typical professions we say we want to be when we grow up….you know the ones that bring in lots of $…..) and be AMAZING witnesses for Jesus. You might change the world.
And some of you (the rest of us) will become Moms. (period)…. And nurses, and teachers, and plumbers, electricians, store managers, account managers, ……
maybe even a preacher at a tiny small town church. And you will still be an AMAZING witness for Jesus.
And this will be GREAT to God.
And that is what matters.
There is nothing in this world that can compare with the Christian fellowship; nothing that can satisfy but Christ.~John D. Rockefeller