Here is a desire no one ever (healthily) professed: “I want my life to not matter. I want my life to be insignificant and of no consequence whatsoever. I want to be a ‘nobody.’”
It’s okay to admit it – in fact it’s crucial that we do! We want to be great! We want glory! We want our life not to be sterile, but to give life! Those are desires straight from the heart of the Father. Of course these good desires can be warped. But, nonetheless, they point to a day when our Father will look at us with enraptured, beaming delight, saying, “My child, you are good and you have done well. You have been my good and faithful servant.” And we will be filled with awe at how God used us to make His Kingdom come. Who doesn’t want that?
Here’s the problem: we don’t understand the currency of greatness. Hypnotized by our culture we think that greatness lies in some combination of accomplishments, busyness, impact, insights and numbers. Greatness is found in production – so the lie goes. So, in our magnanimous attempt to bear fruit and make our lives great, we try to produce and store up as much grain as we can in these silos of our lives. Typically we get totally discouraged because we butt-up against our inabilities to produce great accomplishments, come up with great insights and make an impact on large numbers of people.
But, these leave us wanting anyway, because, at most, these categories are ways of having. One merely produces and accrues accomplishments, insights and large-numbers impact. They are notches on the belt, but they don’t transform. They slap glittering stickers on the outside, but they don’t make us radiant interiorly (at the groundwork of our very person). In fact, they end up weighing quite a bit and leave us pressured and exhausted. Greatness can’t be an external possession. In the end, that’s a mirage. Which is better: having greatness or being great? Possessing or being transformed?
As always, for guidance, let us sit at the feet of our ancestors and bask in the wisdom of those who have gone before us in walking the walk:
The important thing is not how many actions we perform, but the intensity of love that we put into each action. (Mother Teresa, letter to Cardinal Francis Van Thuan)
The currency of greatness (of glory, of Heaven!) is love. The greatest thing any one ever did looked like this:
How’s that for revealing how upside-down our minds are?
Greatness is found in the small and seemingly insignificant moments of great love: in a husband serving his wife with MS for the thousandth time; in a granddaughter visiting her ailing, lonely grandma; in a mother kissing her drunk, confused daughter. In Heaven, we will finally see that this is the stuff that actually ‘works.’ That is the stuff that changes people and changes the world. That is the stuff of consequence and significance.
This is why greatness, ultimately, is found not in systems and planning and ‘working for the future’ but in surrendering to the present moment where Love comes to meet us and transform us:
I am not going to wait. I will live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love. (Msgr. John Walsh, missionary bishop in China)
It also begins to illustrate why Jesus could give this baffling answer to the disciples’ question of “Who is the greatest?”
And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:1-4)
Yes, that takes a lifetime to learn.
But, best of all, this true conception of greatness shows its realness by actually quenching our desire. It isn’t found in production, but in transformation. It makes new what was old. It makes alive what was dead. In surrendering to God’s love, we become like Him. In loving, we become love – like a bodysurfer surrendering to the wave and becoming the wave.
We long to be great. But, we need a whole lot of help in understanding what that means. Let us come to Jesus and surrender to the Holy Spirit and so be renewed and transformed to live lives of great love.