“There is no substitution for learning to be a Christian by being in the presence of significant lives made significant by being Christian. Significance can of course be a misleading description of the lives that got my attention. Significance suggests importance. it suggests lives that make a difference and that demand acknowledgment. But the lives of significance I began to notice were not significant in any of those ways. Rather, they were lives of quiet serenity, capable of attending with love to the everyday without the need to be recognized as “making a difference.” (Pg. 95-96 of Hannah’s Child)
What a great description of significance! So many of us (myself included) get frustrated because we carry with us the idea that to be significant is to be “recognized as making a difference.” To see a visible, tangible difference being made. On a pastoral note, let me just say that this can be excruciating! There are stretches when it feels as if you’re trying SO hard, and working your butt off, but simply don’t see the kind of difference that would affirm that you’re actually doing something significant.
Many times though, as we begin to ask, “what might this look like for us?”; for some reason we compare ourselves to those we would define as doing the “most significant” work in our country or world. So, we read a book like Irresistible Revolution and think, “unless I’m doing something as significant as Shane Claiborne, then I’m really not doing anything at all.”
I’ve seen people fizzle out of community on account of this very belief. It happens from time to time when people simply don’t feel like they’re contributing anything significant because they don’t see the evidence of a discernible difference (usually defined by over-idealistic expectations). What results is a nagging frustration. But instead of adjusting expectations, or simply describing significance with humility in the way of Jesus, blame is placed.
It’s the pastors fault, he’s not challenging us enough. It’s the community’s fault, they’re just not “doing anything”. It’s God’s fault for giving us such a broken tool like “the church”. Regardless of whose fault it is (it’s never my own), the response is to bail on the community that is clearly holding us back. I can see how it would be easy to do that, but it doesn’t seem to solve anything. In 6 months you realize that you’re still not “making a difference” (meaning you haven’t solved the homeless problem in your city) and the frustration returns. What do you do then?
During difficult stretches like this, I think it’s helpful and healthy to readjust your expectations of what “significance” means in regard to how we serve our world and each other. It might be a good time to examine what it means to be the church and faithfully follow Christ’s humble example of sacrifice and service, even in the midst of extreme difficulty. I think it’s important to remember thatsometimes the most “significant” thing you can do is to simply be present for the sake of others around you.