Sunday, January 12, 2014

My Search for Significance in a World of Stray Cheerios

When I had my first baby seven years ago, I experienced a text-book case of identity crisis. I had recently left my joba job in which I could walk around in business suits and heels, call meetings, and hold conference calls. People called me on my extension to ask me questions. And I had answers. I was significant. But then I quit. I found myself abruptly thrown from a busy world of downtown DC streets, metro stops, bustling lobbies and conference rooms into the quiet solitude of our town house. It was a beautiful Victorian on Capitol Hill, but suddenly the house I had loved, and in which my husband and I had envisioned an idyllic family life, seemed more like a prison cell with its window-less walls on each side and the bars in front. The depth of the floor plan, which had initially been an appealing feature to us as home-buyers, now felt claustrophobic, like I was trapped in a long, narrow tunnel with the only source of light filtering in dimly from each end. To make matters worse, we lived a stone's throw from the Capitol building. Exciting things were happening just blocks away, but I was completely shut off from it all. So near, yet so far! I would walk past soaring monuments and imposing buildings with my baby stroller feeling extremely smallalmost invisible. There was a nice security guard I would often pass on my purposeless treks to Union Station, and he'd always wave and shout out something friendly. But he was the only one who seemed to notice me. When at home, I often half-joked to myself that I was like Mariana in the Moated Grange, watching the clock, waiting for my husband to battle rush hour traffic and return home!...

All day within the dreamy house,
   The doors upon their hinges creaked;
The blue fly sung i' the pane; the mouse
   Behind the mouldering wainscot shrieked,
   Or from the crevice peer'd about.
Old faces glimmered through the doors,
   Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
   Old voices called her from without.
She only said, "My life is dreary,
    He cometh not," she said;                           
She said, "I am aweary, aweary,
    I would that I were dead!"

It was all very tragic. Logically, I knew we were blessed to live in a such a wonderful place and to be able to provide for our child in ways that many people in other parts of the world could not. But my identity crisis, clichéd and admittedly quite comical as it is in retrospect, was seriously crippling at the timepreventing me from appreciating all that God had given me and, more importantly, all that God is.

The problem, it seemed, was that I had lost my sense of purpose. Some would say, I had lost my sense of self. I had a graduate education and eight years of work experience, but rather than using my skills, I now spent my days at home with our baby, who slept most of the time, leaving me alone to clean up a perpetual mess of misplaced sweet-potato spoonfuls and stray Cheerios. I was often on my knees scraping the kid-crumbs out of the cracks in our old wooden floors, the charm of which was now lost on me. My big-picture world of international development had been reduced to a myopic one that magnified floor grit and dust balls. 

But my gloomy outlook wasn't a product of my circumstances. It was rooted in a deep-seated heart problem that presented itself in my desperate need for significance. What is my purpose? I would ask my harrowed husband as he walked in bleary-eyed from the DC rush-hour craze. I am here all day, not using my God-given gifts. Has God forgotten about me? Why did He give me gifts if I can't use them?

In my frantic search for significance, I read The Purpose-Driven Life, and prayed for God to reveal to me my purpose...for God to impart to me His plan for my life and my special calling. But the more I prayed, the less I heard. And I was left more confused than ever. I wanted to serve Him, but I didn't know how. I knew that my identity was in Christ, not in my career, in my family, or in anything other than in Him. But I hadn't understood the depth of what this really meant. I still felt insignificant.

But the Bible teaches that our true significance is found in God's love for us. We each are significant because there is a mighty God, the Creator of the universe, who values and loves each of us individually, for even the hairs on our heads are numbered (Luke 12:7). And He loves each of us intimately for He knows every word we will utter before we speak it and He is familiar with all our ways (Psa 139:3-4). He cares about the details of our lives, because every day ordained for us was written in His book before it came to be (Psa 139:16). And we know that He loved us so much that He laid down His life for us (1 John 3:16). 

In actuality, I had been seeking my sense of significance in my "calling," rather than in God's love for me. This realization hit me one Sunday when our pastor pronounced: "It's not about what we can do for God, it's about what He's already done for us!" It was then that I began to understand the need to stop focusing on myself and to instead fix my eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith, who had endured the cross for me (Heb 12:2). Up to that point, it had been about all about me; my calling, my gifts, my purpose. Without realizing it, I had been trying to fit God into my own self-centered world, in which I was the star. But it wasn't about me at all. It was about Him. It wasn't about some lofty purpose or grandiose calling on my life. It was all about Him.  

It can be very confusing for us as Christians when we are constantly told we need to identify our special purpose on Earth and access our spiritual gifts in order to function more effectively as servants of God. But, actually, the more we focus on these things, the more we take our eyes away from Jesus and the more egocentric we can become. It's good to know what our gifts are and how best to use them, but we shouldn't build our lives around our gifts. We can trust God that He will lead us to use the gifts He has given us in His perfect way, in His perfect timing. The pressure is taken off us, as we surrender more fully to Him. This is especially true in ministry as I was to find out some time later. I learned (sometimes the hard way) that as soon as I made my ministry about myself instead of God, I was working in my own strength, not His. Rather than treating our gifts as the starting point, then, we should start out by responding to the needs of others first. If we see a need, we should prayerfully try to meet it according to our ability. If God opens up an opportunity to reach out to someone with His love, we should take it. This enables us to step out of our comfort zone and grow in our faith.

So, instead of getting bogged down in a quest to find our special purpose, we can rest in the knowledge that our purpose as believers is singular: it is to glorify God. We know from Scripture that we were created to please God, for He said, "Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—for everyone who is called by my name, I created for my glory, whom I formed and made" (Isa 43:7). There are many ways in which we can glorify Him, through obedience, service, ministry, worship, and witnessing. But the end goal should always be for His glorynothing more, nothing less. 

I realized that my God-given role right then was to take care of my new baby and husband both of whom I was really thankful for. It wasn't a high-profile role in ministry or missions, but it was where God had me at that time. This was a good lesson in humility because I began to realize that I didn't need to be significant in the world's eyes. I didn't need to seek credibility in the approval of others. What really mattered was glorifying God in all I did, even if He was the only one who noticed. And even if my job was picking up stray Cheerios that day, I needed to do it for His glory! 

Now, when I see a stray Cheerio on the floor (which I often do), it makes me chuckle as I'm reminded how something that seems so small and insignificant can actually carry so much meaning.

No comments: