It’s that season again, when the graduation announcements come rolling in. Another crop of scholars, fresh-faced and starry-eyed, ready to sweat in their caps and gowns while commencement speakers everywhere wax eloquent about the keys to success and notoriety. And then off they’ll go to celebrate. And some of them will go on to do what they had planned all along and to succeed at it. But many of them will have things happen that will knock them off course, change their paths little by little or all at once.
And there may come a point down the road, when they hear of former classmates who have advanced in their fields and are receiving acclaim, that they pause, look at where they have landed and think, “I really could have been something.”
I found myself in this spot several years ago, when my oldest was a baby. When I was younger, music had been a big part of my life. I wrote songs, sang them for whoever would listen, and even entertained quiet dreams of a life in Nashville. But as reality took over, I got my degree in something completely unrelated to music (biology!) and then settled down into the routine of being a mom and the wife of a youth pastor. One day, though, as I was leafing through Contemporary Christian Music Magazine, I came across the name of an old high school friend. He had gone on to live his dream of moving to Nashville and becoming a songwriter… and it hit me hard.
I looked around at my little house littered with plastic toys and Cheerios and evidences of my ordinary existence. “I could have done it, too. I know it.” Tears welled in my unmade-up eyes. “I could have been great.”
If I could go back to that moment, I just might smack myself!
I had a serious problem. My what-really-matters lenses were on upside down and backwards. My view was so warped that I was missing what it means to succeed in God’s economy. And it took years of Jesus’ touch to begin healing my blindness so I could see the glorious shimmering just beneath the surface of the ordinary.
But, oh, have I seen it!
I’ve seen it in the humble hands, heard it in the gentle voice of a thirteen-year-old boy cleaning up after another child who had gotten car sick.
I’ve watched it in a nursing home, bathing wrinkled skin and listening with pleasure to the same story for the sixth time.
I’ve known it in bowed graying heads and beautiful, gnarled fingers, folded in prayer.
Greatness is a barefoot man in a dirty alley, with empty pockets and an empty belly, singing gratitude to the Giver of all good things.
Greatness is the mama, worn to the bone and hair unwashed for three days straight, rocking her little one in the night, pouring herself out to give life.
Greatness isn’t waiting in the wings for someone to grow up, be discovered, garner praise for a job well done. It’s happening now.
In the silence. In the dark. In open hands and humble souls and quiet hearts who understand that it’s not about aspiring to be well-loved, but desiring to love well. It’s not about having a name that’s known by many. It’s about knowing and being known by the One who made us.