The graduating seniors were recognized at lunch today – it was a moment to laugh, smile, cry, and dream. We watched a slideshow of their time here on campus, there were ‘Senior Wills’ (objects and programs passed on to underclassmen), and we celebrated the upcoming commencement.
A phrase about the seniors was said: “they’re going to do great things”. This caught the ear of my classmate, who hopes the same isn’t said of our class. Because ‘great things’ is a pretty lofty goal – a high, nearly unreachable point that many of us will never achieve. Most of us will never be the Stated Clerk for the denomination. Most of us will never be a best-selling author. Most of us will never be pastors of a mega church. Most of us will never lead the National Day of Prayer Breakfast, preach in a stadium, or lead a conference with thousands of attendees.
Most of us will never do these ‘great’ things. And perhaps we shouldn’t aim for them, either. There’s too much pressure in this world to do great things: we must have the greatest Instagram photo of the best meal at the best restaurant. We must be the best and greatest friend, wife, boyfriend, partner, or student. We must change lives and make a real, tangible difference. We must always be present, with a cheery disposition and a kind word at the ready.
I don’t think we need to aim for doing great things because then we’re aiming for greatness – we’re striving after recognition, not selflessness. We don’t need to aim for great things because there’s plenty of ordinary, little things that need to be done. The great things get accolades, money, and fame. But the little things, the real things, the things we can do, are the things we should do.
Today at lunch another student and I received the Alice Phiri Award, which in part “acknowledges an enrolled student who gives above and beyond to help…helping others without the thought of compensation or accolades.” I am humbled and astonished to be the recipient and it baffles me that I was actually even nominated. I can’t thank Karen, Leslie, Lauraine, Emily, and Christy enough for thinking of me and taking the time to throw my name into the ring.
Truthfully it’s a somewhat difficult award to accept because it’s an acknowledgement of my actions, for which I didn’t want or expect to be acknowledged. It’s wonderful to have people say that they actually see what I’m doing and are touched by what I do, but it’s never been my intention to achieve recognition. I’m never aiming for doing great things. I’m never aiming for recognition. I’m aiming to be Christ in this world (and I fail at this often) by helping others, by listening and being present, by commiserating and crying and hugging and laughing. I’m aiming to be a servant and a giver, to walk humbly and gently in this world.
When I was a kid we would frequently have potlucks at church and my pastor would always be the last one to go through the line. Rodger would chat and hang out near the food table while smiling, laughing, and talking as we filed along, and he made sure everyone else was fed before he would load up his plate. Without complaint he would pile on the undesirables of the potluck table and eat with a genuine smile on his face and joy in his heart. It was in Rodger’s little action thirty-something years ago that I began to understand that doing great things weren’t necessary or needed in this world.
We have enough people aiming for great things. Why don’t we start aiming for the attainable? We need more people digging into the day-to-day dirtiness of life, helping other people when they’re at their lowest, at their middle-est, at their highest. We need people who are willing to walk through the muck and mire of life with other people. We need people who are okay with never doing ‘great things’ or achieving recognition. We need people like Christ.
Through God’s grace and strength, may you do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.¹
much love. sheth.
1. Turns out that John Wesley did not say this, which is why I didn’t quote him. You can read more here or here.