In the past couple years I’ve made some big changes in my life. I used to be a really selfish person. (Sometimes I still am.) Selfishness is such an unattractive quality in other people, but when we take a close look at ourselves, often we realize we suffer from the same malady. I certainly did. I went through a dark period that my husband calls post-partum depression. I’m not sure that’s what it was. I experienced a general unhappiness in my marriage, where we lived, being so far from my family and working in a job that I enjoyed but that wasn’t a real career. I loved my kids but I had imagined myself being a bigger deal by my thirties than I had become. I thought I would have a big deal career or something. That never really materialized, and while I was reasonably satisfied, I wasn’t impressive.
See, I grew up in the Christian culture that emphasized doing BIG things for God. Even though I had a Master’s degree from a fancy pants seminary (Duke Divinity School), I wasn’t doing big things for anyone. I was working, cleaning house and taking care of babies. Small potatoes, right? Not necessarily. What came out of my self-absorbed and self-pitying slump was a fresh look at my life and how God’s definition of BIG is often small.
I had a pretty radical paradigm shift and I realized that the church had given me a false sense of what success looks like. Rather than being loud and obvious, Kingdom work is very often humble and small. It’s so humble that many Christians consider it beneath them. Take the church nursery for example. People gotta have a place to drop their kids, right? But no one ever claps for the nursery workers and their images aren’t projected onto a screen so people in the back can see them. Everybody wants to lead worship or preach. People want to shine and hear applause and hold the mic; nobody wants to wipe noses.
I had two children under two years old, so wiping noses was my ministry, y’all. And it was important work, maybe the most important work. It’s not sexy though, and if I wrote a book about how God’s plan for your life is to wipe noses, you wouldn’t buy it. You would buy something by that Osteen fellow because he is going to tell you that you’re destined to be a big deal. But it’s just not true, folks.
The church does us wrong when it tells us how special we are and how grand God’s plan is. All of God’s plans are certainly grand, but not in the American sense of the word. God is weaving a tapestry whose threads are individual stories. Some are fast-paced or fraught with danger; others are rather mundane. Just because your life seems ordinary doesn’t mean you aren’t an integral part of the story.
We live in a celebrity worshipping culture that equates fame with success. Christian celebrities who are writing books, headlining conferences and gaining 10,000 Twitter followers aren’t necessarily doing better work for God than the stay at home mom. Fame does not equal success. Accolades do not equal success. Kingdom work won’t always win us Facebook friends or book deals. Don’t discount your story because it’s not as exciting as someone else’s.
Even some of the most exciting stories are only exciting at the beginning. Take adoption, for example. After the paperwork is done and the trip is taken and the kid comes to live with you, there’s nothing glamorous about raising a kid. Adopted kids pee all over the seat and wipe pureed green beans on the wall just like biological kids. Raising a kid is hard work, plain and simple. And it takes 18 years. But raising a kid, especially a kid who had no parents and was shacked up in an institution, is holy, redemptive work. What better way to put the Gospel on display than to take in a vulnerable child? Glamorous? Nope. Worthy and worthwhile? You betcha.
All of this to say that I’ve given up on being impressive. I work, I raise two kids, I volunteer for an anti-trafficking group and I have two sponsor kids through World Vision. That is the extent of my impact on the world. Movies will probably not be made about my life. I’m okay with that. I feel really good about the things I’m doing. What if my sponsorship dollars enable a girl to go to school who otherwise would have been trapped in subsistence farming, unable to read and barely eeking out a living? What if the bags of rice her family receives from World Vision are the thing that keeps her parents from selling her into a brothel? There’s no way to know how God will transform our small things into big things for the Kingdom.