Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Secret of Significance

I recently visited a local military museum here in Florida where the experience awakened many emotions, reading the account of heroes who died well, medal of honor recipients, noble veterans scarred for life by their physical and emotional trauma. All a result of their valor, courage, their greatness.

It made me a bit envious of the role they played in the human story. When I compared my life to theirs, I felt as though I had truly missed my own opportunity for greatness.

Observation shows that some are driven by a narcissistic need for self-completion that is found in having others see them as "great", "successful", or "powerful". That is the answer to many who toy with an inner sense of "destiny", anticipating the day when the curtain will be pulled back and they are finally recognized for what they are - significant on the stage of the human story. Psychologists concur that such was the character of Adolph Hitler, certainly one of the most "significant" humans who ever lived.

But aside from the sick side of things, the narcissism, the megalomania, the insecurity-driven, in a healthy sense, we all want to do something great with our lives. We only have one go at this after all. And that urge just gets stronger as you age, looking back on life, with it's sins, failures, regrets - but still longing to die well, to be a positive force in a world that is darkening.

Maybe some us have made such a mess out of our lives that greatness is out of the question - humanly speaking.

But significance is not. It's not out of the question at all. In fact it's a very real possibility, even probability.

I think I am finally learning the secret of significance. If you can't do something great, do something good, many times over. Greatness is probably out of grasp, but significance is not. Significance, making a difference, is achieved not in one great act, but in the accumulation of many small ones.

I recently visited a local sandwich shop, a startup venture, single person operation, cash only. I was short a few dollars, but the owner unhesitatingly urged me to take the sandwich anyway. By his generosity he put a smile on my face and a bit of hope in my heart. A few days later when I had a chance to return to the shop, after handing the owner his few dollars (plus a few extra just to say thanks), I felt prompted to say a couple of words of encouragement to him. That made his day, far more than the few bucks. It put a smile on his face, and he lit up, a momentary wave of encouragement in a day no doubt filled with hassle, hard work and disappointment.

If I could multiply that many times in a given day, I'm sure I would convince myself I had learned the secret of significance

Jesus, the most significant life ever lived by any man, was prone to greatness. He was the center of all existence. He was the radiance of the Father's glory, He was creator, sustainor, ruler of the Cosmos. Indeed he was greatness incarnate. But He also knew the secret of significance that was found in the accumulative wealth of small actions, marked by goodness. So the woman who touched His garment and was healed - she touched God and God touched back. The invititation of a tax-man, Zaccheus to join Him, the healing of a soldier's daughter without even stepping foot into the man's house. These little (comparatively) touches of the man Jesus as He walked through the world He created, He ruled, He owned, these little touches that He always made wherever He traveled, are the secret to our own significance.

It's not so much one great act that matters, but the accumulation of many small, good acts. That's the secret to significance.

But the real secret exists yet one layer deeper than this. The search for significance, even in the multiplication of small, good things, can end in a spiral of selfishness. If our yearning for significance terminates only with gaining that significance we so desire, then we have ended our search at the foot of our own need, and are attempting to use "significance" as a tool to complete ourselves - to make us feel good about ourselves, to gain human approval, acceptance. At least in our own eyes.

The eye of the soul, heart and desire must cast itself a further gaze, to the real need that others have. The accumulation of good things is not to land in a heap and bundle at our own feet, but as a living sacrificial memorial at the foot of Jesus and His cross. Doing good for others, simply out of love and not self-need is what we are called to as Christians. Nursing our own personal insecurities, and attempting to answer them by good works and the sense of self-satisfaction it brings is merely another form of self-salvation. This moralism minimizes the sacrifice of Jesus by unselfconsciously resting in our own deeds for our peace and security rather than in Him alone.

So while the secret of significance must include the multiplication of caring actions through our day, through our contact with others, it must set it's sights higher. The secret of significance is ultimately found in knowing Jesus and being "touched" by Him.

The calendars on every wall will never relate to your birth date - that's reserved for Jesus. But the eternally significant One, the One who occupies the center of the universe happens to love the insignificant, and touches them with the power of His own unsearchable relevance, bringing them into His shared, eternal relevance.

Secure in this relationship, our accumulation of good done for others becomes not the means for significance, but the badge, the seal, the living witness of a significance planted in eternity, where it will abide a living memorial to Christ's power of love, living through mere mortals.

Now THAT'S significance.

"...that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven".

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