Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Don't Think Big

On the heels of my recent post, Searching for What Comes Next, I've had a lot of conversations with people about what exactly that might be. They've ranged quite broadly, but they've all been flush with uncertainty. It's difficult for people to imagine something different while still immersed in a stable, tangible world.

We took a bit of a leap - stepping out from our known structure to one less known. What's it's done for me, is force me to spend most of my time actively imagining and learning about what comes next. Not to dash your hopes completely, but I haven't found much. That is to say the process thus far has been more about unlearning things than learning.

When it comes to ministry, we're generally trained to be active, engaged, focused, goal-oriented, and pushing forward. As one who grew up in a pastor's home, I've never (until now) lived some place I didn't expect to leave. Delaware is my 10th state in 30 years of life. But even when I was just a kid and not a "minister," this reality still led to forced relationships. I had to make friends, find common interests, use the time wisely because there was no telling how much time existed.

This is even more pronounced as a pastor. You enter into a new environment, a family, essentially, where everyone knows each other, shares a history and deep relationships with everyone, but you. On top of that, you're the one they look to for guidance and wisdom. You have to work hard to fully immerse yourself in relationship; you have to push. There is no other option. It's sink or swim.

Well, I've been unlearning that lifelong training.

Patience has been the most important skill thus far. I don't have to rush any relationships because I don't expect to be going anywhere. If I meet a neighbor and then don't see them again for two weeks I have to tell myself, "don't worry, going out of your way to see people you just met three times a week pegs you as a wierdo." It's only in the Church that people feel obligated to be best friends immediately. Maybe we're afraid they'll never come back? I don't know, but most of my neighbors aren't moving anywhere in the near future.

The other lesson, really the larger lesson encompassing patience, is, as the title indicates, Don't Think Big. In ministerial training, probably any sort of management or life training, you're taught to set goals and work to strategically meet those goal, early if possible. Everything you do should be geared towards making progress on your goals.

My father-in-law passed along a biography of Mother Teresa a few years ago. I knew Mother Teresa as an old nun who battled poverty in India. I knew her as a famous person who death I may or may not be responsible for.* She was an archetype of a famous saint, but I knew nothing of her life.

That biography floored me. I expected to hear about cutting edge medical clinics and unique fundraising plans. That's the sort of thing we'd call a success in our culture (both American and Evangelical). The reality is, to the end of her life, Mother Teresa just wanted to provide a place for poor people to die in peace, with loving caregivers. The Sisters of Charity wash dirty bodies, provide cold water, pray, and love. There are more things they do in other places around the world, but they are similarly linked to small things in context.

In fact, Mother Teresa's most famous quote is that she did "small things, with great love." She didn't say, "we're going to end poverty in India by 2050," or "we're going to provide access to medicine for the poor of Calcutta." She simply went out her front door, found people literally dying in the street, and brought them home.

I've become more and more convinced that our focus should not be on the future of what could be, but on the present reality of what is. We can be intimidated by big goals, paralyzed even - or we can be so consumed by the goal that we miss the people right in front of us. It's not that we don't live unintentionally (yes, it's a triple negative, but I couldn't figure out how to word it differently and mean the same thing) or that we're not purposeful.  It's not even that we avoid setting goals.  We just have to make sure our goals are focused on being in the moment, living each day with love, and worrying more about the people we meet face to face than the potential future multitudes that may or may not exist.

I'm not sure how this jibes with the reality of an interconnected, global world.  I certainly don't want to take away from our unique and important ability to make a difference around the globe.  I do think, however, that if our primary focus is not immediately in front of us, we're missing out on something important.

We claim that God is bigger and more capable than anything we could ever dream. It's often used as motivation to dream big; I wonder if it shouldn't be the reason we do small things with great love.

*If you recall, she died shortly after Princess Diana was killed. We were driving in a van on the way to a Cross-Country meet and I was complaining about how much attention Diana was receiving, mostly for being famous (in retrospect, given the low bar for celebrity these days, that seems like a silly arguments, but context is everything - who could have predicted the Real Housewives of Buttfart, Wisconsin anyway?). My next line was, "Now, if Mother Theresa died..." but before I could even finish the sentence the radio broke in with news of her death. It became deadly quiet in the van and I've felt somehow guilty ever since.


nick mucci said...

brother, sat through a talk given by Tony Kriz a few years ago. dude, challenged me quite well. he spoke of our technological advances and the inter-connectivity in the world...and how with that, the thing that we cannot replace technology with is touch and physical presence. now, i'm not saying, and neither was he, that we just start touching on people...but that really began to hit me. my primary goal as a citizen of the Kingdom and an Ambassador for the King is to be present, fully present with those who are right in front of me. and you can tell Tony means this, just by the way the dude gives a hug. it used to make me uncomfortable, but now i relish it. dude is just seriously happy to be sharing time and space with people...that's the kind of love we must give people, the sick and dying in Calcutta, and those wonderful Housewives in Buttfart. thoughts...

peter yost said...

Is it possible to do both? Dream big with the Holy Spirit of a hugely expansive God leading you, move in that direction, but keep on doing the small things with great love.

Ryan said...

It is, in essence, doing both. In practice, if you have a goal, but focus only on the goal, you'll never reach it. You have to focus on the simple, everyday things required to achieve that goal in order to actually achieve it. The goal really only serves to keep us focused through the difficulties of the every day. From a Christian perspective, the goal is already achieved - our task is simply to live into that goal in small ways everyday. We can look up and see the future to keep us motivated, but if we're not doing the small things (and allowing God to worry about the big ones), then we're not going to get anywhere.