At 20 I wanted to be known.
At 30 I strove to succeed.
At 40 I subtly sought your praises and recognition.
Now, at 50, I yearn to make a contribution.
I’m coming to realize it’s far better to be a small part of something bigger than me. I have shunned the spotlight, given up opportunities to grab my “following” and let go of dreams which would mean my name would go on beyond my short years on this earth. I am grasping at greater impact these days – and, as many things in God’s kingdom go, it’s upside down from how I had expected it to be.
I’m thinking of a recent Tuesday evening when I sat with a woman in downtown Bakersfield, a city most people avoid getting off the freeway to visit, in the 12-month recovery program at the Rescue Mission, a place most people don’t want to be any night of the week. She poured out her heart about being orphaned and abused her whole life. To say the privilege of being with her and entering into her pain for the sake of healing surpasses having my book on the NY Times best seller’s list would be an understatement. Moments like this won’t get me any award or recognition in the known world. Yet, small touches with great meaning comprise what I live for these days.
Years ago I wanted my own name to be known. (Ewww … embarrassingly true!) I needed some sort of validation and I would have sworn to you that I didn’t. I knew it wasn’t healthy to want to be known, so I denied that desire in myself and walked the conflicted road of wanting recognition while needing to say I didn’t. If you liked my page, followed my posts, subscribed to my blog, it meant I was good, worthy, acceptable. It’s really something to step back and not need external confirmation. God had to take me through some serious death to self, and that, invariably is simultaneously painful and profitable.
What I want now is to make a difference – and not even a big one. I want to matter quietly. I want to touch intimately, and in that process be one of many instruments God uses to bless and heal others. Most of all, I want Him. That’s a world away from wanting to be known.
Up until the past few years I spent much of my time in the Christian church serving on committees and ministries, giving my time to people in need and speaking to groups about how to walk more completely with Jesus. All of that was quite good, no doubt. The past two years God has drawn me into a different form of serving.
We came to our current church almost three years ago. I was asked to speak at the Christmas Tea. From that opportunity, I was invited to lead our women’s retreat in the coming Spring. A little while later, the three women who coordinate all the women’s events asked me to join them in being a part of organizing the ministry as a part of serving the women at our church. I have witnessed churches where one woman (the Women’s Ministry Director) becomes the focal point. She doesn’t usually want to be so central and exalted, but, like it or not, she starts to function as the heart of the ministry. Her bible studies are the ones to go through; she speaks and leads the teaching; she coordinates or oversees all the events of the ministry. Despite the potentially humble attitude of the Director, things can quickly off balance. Many women start to see her as better than the rest of the congregation. She stands on an unintended pedestal.
In the current women’s ministry where I participate, there are four of us in leadership. I like to think of us as four table legs. We support what is going on in the ministry to women in our church. Each of us plays a role, but not one of us is more critical than the other. A table isn’t much use unless it draws people together and supports what is laid upon it. We four women serve our church like a good table. No one focuses on the table because of what’s going on around it. Through this experience I have learned something beautiful about being a part of something bigger than myself. I don’t need to be “Patty Scott, Women’s Ministry Director.” As a matter of fact, I don’t WANT to be that. It is far more beautiful to be a piece of a larger picture.
It’s better to be a part of than to be set apart from.
To be able to draw on the strengths and various personalities we each bring to the mix is dynamic, fun, and encouraging. It keeps each of us appropriately humble (if I do say so myself!). Don’t get me wrong. My blood still gets pumped as I prepare a talk for a MOPS group or plan a retreat where I will have the opportunity to lead women more deeply into God’s presence over three days’ time. I love writing, and though I am not consistently writing in this season, it is like breath to me. When I write, I feel the flow of words towards those who will read and I am energized as I think of what to say and how to say it. I soak in comments people make when they let me know something I wrote ministered to their heart. Their feedback, like a decadent dessert, caps off my outpouring with special sweetness. My delight in joint service doesn’t diminish what I do as an individual. Yet, freedom has come in not needing to be a key figure, known by many or some sort of icon.
Our most beautiful moments come from finding our small place in the bigger picture.
This all probably seems rudimentary to you. However, in the age where messages barrage us to gather followers, increase our email subscribers and reach a target audience, the temptation is great for each individual to become a product. We are selling ourselves and in the process, we sometimes sell ourselves short. Aiming for fame and popularity, we can become slaves to others – Did they like my post? How many read? What did they comment? These approval barometers become determinants of our wellbeing and distract us from deeper peace in knowing the One who made us likes us enough for all other “likes” combined.
I want to focus on being a follower of His rather than gathering followers of mine. His ways always lead to the lighter yoke and greater freedom. Being a small part of a bigger whole leads to great joy. I’m reminded of Ephesians where God describes each joint supplying what it was designed to contribute. A symphony, a choir, a mosaic, an ocean: each small contribution into the greater makes a difference, but only to the extent that the whole is enhanced by the parts.
At 50, I’m grateful for smallness, simplicity and being just plain old me.
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