When I was a girl, I often read biographies. Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa stand out the most and I can still remember the shape and smell of those library pages and where I was when the ideas shook my little spirit from side to side, waking me up to the greater world.
I wanted to live an influential life, one that made an imprint on history and that affected life after life with help and hope. I wanted to start movements! It was bright and innocent, those aspirations from this INFJ idealist. It was all-American too. I was the product of a colonized country, a girl growing up in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when the idea that people could “change the world” was just beginning to be written about, books on the subject breeding like rabbits into the 21st century until it spewed out all over the world-wide web. No one has been immune to the seduction.
But the problem with little-girl aspirations and grown-up seductions is that they can turn into driven and delusional ambitions that are really all about me. The heart is deceptive above all things. Trust me, I know, for bit by bit through the years God’s been hammering mine into a better shape, the freedom without those aspirations and seductions feeling so much better than the weight they brought.
You see, we live in an age that I believe particularly feeds an ego. All these ideas about changing the world– so beautifully disguised in altruistic motives–with food that fuels every sinner’s inherent desire to be worshipped by being noticed. Don’t we see it all around us? So much self-promotion in the name of “helping others”, so much daily “show and tell” that easily becomes comparison and competition, so much of all our “promoting and marketing” as if we are back in middle school and needing to impress and prove while we compulsively “follow” the lives of others and report about ours, rather than simply live them. Really, we are the ones in all of history whom invented “selfies”! Need I elaborate on how much we have lost our sense of dignity and the beauty of our daily lives lived under the gaze of God and not the spotlight we project? What is this really, all this clamoring to be heard, to be noticed, to be desired, to sell, to have an opinion and voice it? And our compassion, even it can be a good costume for pride, for the burden we take on can make us believe we could be the Savior.
Do we have to give in? What if we did not? Is it possible?
When I think on the saints I have known, the saints I have read, it was those who were intentional about living a quiet, faithful and almost hidden life. I noticed. They had the power, quite oblivious them, to “change my world”. They were and they are not involved in noisy efforts to draw attention to themselves. They keep their eyes on Jesus and when they act and how they act is only because the Spirit within them beckons and they obey. They abide. They have no desire to sit and count their fruit or fertilize themselves. It is not their prerogative. And they are at peace, for they have not distorted the Gospel and made it about their striving, but rather their grateful and loving obedience. I want to be like this.
You see, I don’t live in the USA anymore and in me it is doing strange wonders. The thinking is different and it challenges mine. I walk among all the slowness, the lingering, even the fatalism. But, I see how life is savored. It still sucks the marrow out of it, but it does not crush the bones. You start to see that crawling into heaven worn-out is not particularly that admirable, it just says I was shooting at every good target I saw hoping I would hit something, ensuring my own fruitfulness and thinking that a reflective life was a wasted life and rest was in competition with activity. What kind of “legacy” does that leave?
It strips you down, this moving to another country where you are really a nobody and how much you can talk and give, in the beginning stages of assimilation, is limited. It speaks to you in the quietness of the night and tells you that the call to be a missionary, the call to be one who wants to serve and love, the programmed desire to “change this world” is rather a call to ultimate and grueling humility. It’s a call to brokenness, anonymity, and simplicity. To emptying oneself, to plodding, to feeling like a Moses, to dying to self so Jesus might be more alive in you and help himself to your life whenever and however he pleases. It was never a call to pose as a demigod; it’s a death blow to any remnant of pride or arrogance. It is brutal and it is wonderful. It is an invitation to experience just how little I am and how little I can do, but how much He can. And how much in spite of me and yes, without me, He has this country, this world in His hands.
Yesterday I found a tree firmly rooted (for so many years without my help), and I sat under it. I bowed my head upon my knees and I worshiped God. I acknowledged he is the Ancient of Days, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
All the change I want to see, all the goodness I want our lives to be, I prayed it out to Him like never before. I hurled it all to Him until I felt sure that the bowl in heaven full of the my prayers was so full it was at the tipping point. I have the faith that they’ll be sifted and come back down on me with answers and hope and change I can never bring.
The biographies? I am still a sucker for them. They are still good. So good, I read them to my children. But I tell them God is writing their biography and no worry, their lives will serve to do more than inspire, they will declare His praises for the ages to come.
And the older I get, that is becoming my only ambition.