I used to think I was called to live a big life. Do big things. Be on some kind of platform telling people stuff they’d never heard before.
Mountains always put my life in perspective. I am small, both in stature and in the length of time I will exist on the earth. Not at all like a mountain. More like a structure in wet sand – seemingly changing the landscape but almost immediately wiped away and forgotten.
And I can find a million ways to convince myself that my life is significant and important. I can talk myself into believing that a hundred years from now, my life will matter. This is the symptom of being raised in an individualist culture. I must matter alone and not only collectively. I must create lasting change.
In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Henry Ford was a deity. The last time I read that book I thought about how if the book were re-written now, Steve Jobs would probably be the deity. While Ford’s contributions to technology are certainly lasting and not to be denied, he is old news. He is obsolete. Cars are old news. And in 80 years, there will be someone new. Steve Jobs will be to my grandchildren what Henry Ford was to me. (Is it possible? Surely not. Surely there is no world better than this one. Surely we have hit our limit. And yet this is the same thing my grandparents said.)
My life is small. I know a few people. I have a few meaningful relationships. Ask people in my circle of influence, and they’ll know me. Ask one degree outside of that, and I have no existence in the world. I am small.
None of us like to think that our time here on earth will end, or that in a few generations we will be forgotten or if we’re lucky maybe we’ll exist at the top of a family tree. We scrape and weep to make ourselves known in this life, to create for ourselves a modicum of significance. We need to be important and heard.
The truth is, I want to make myself into an idol. I want to be a brand, a movement. When the reality is, I need to take care of the people in front of me. I need to solve the problems in my apartment building, in my day to day trajectory. I want people to know my name, but the world won’t be changed by my name, but by the love and grace I am able to pour onto those around me.
Our lives are small. That’s how it is. We can affect the people around us for good. We can make people’s lives better, and they can make others’ lives better, and on and on. We can truly change a life or two, more than a few if it works out for us. And that’s what I believe we are called to. Not a platform, but an inconvenient, blood and sweat investment into the lives of a few people God allows us to touch.
I’m not sure what the answer is. Because I still want to feel important and needed. I want to feel like if I went away, the world would feel it. But the truth is, like that shoeprint in wet sand, the world would move on. And if I’ve done things well at any point, a few people will have been changed for the better, and they will go on to change a couple people for the better. The truth is, all we have left at the end is the investments we’ve made into the lives of others. All we have – as is typical of the Kingdom – is what we’ve given away of ourselves.
The truth is, we have to stop waiting for a platform and start healing those around us. We have to stop waiting for organizations to make the world better and start engaging with the lives of those around us. We have to stop complaining about how wrong everyone else is doing it and just do it right ourselves and share that with a few other people. We have to stop waiting for the ‘someday’ calling, the big platform, the viral stuff, and start giving ourselves away, healing people’s hearts and investing in others.
I am learning to live a small life. I am learning to embrace the fact that I can invest deeply in a few people around me, and that’s how change happens. One life, one day, one conversation, one coffee at a time.