Don’t we all want to be remembered as someone great? It must feel good to have people celebrate your work, your gift, your name.
I’ve had too many attempts at that. Even as a kid, I’ve been keeping up with this competition in my head to validate my worth. And we all know that where there is competition, there is a comparison. Who’s got better grades? Should be me. Who’s got a better job? Should be me. Whose family is happier? Should be mine. Who lives in a fancy home and drives a fancy car? Should be me.
Subtly, I was always on the lookout to make sure nobody else has it better than me. When I see others enjoy things that I don’t have, I’d whisper to myself “I deserve that better.” I was convinced that it will give me a sense of security to know that I am ahead in the game.
I’ve always been told to find a better career opportunity, to look for another gadget to buy, to work on another project that will leave a legacy. But no matter what I do, the thing is I still fall at the category of average — average intelligence, average creativity, average memory, average experience, average skills.
It was just recently when I discovered that being in the lowest place could give you a profound sense of joy, only if you looked closely.
What’s wrong with being average?
It was around May when I watched this anime series called The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. (We were still under lockdown due to the pandemic.) The show, a sci-fi comedy, is about a teenage guy with extraordinary psychic powers trying to live a normal high school life while saving the world.
The main character, Saiki, is so special because of his abilities yet he longs to be a normal teen. He wanted to blend in with the rest. There was an episode where Saiki admired his average classmate’s quiet existence. While watching the average guy do average things from afar he kept telling himself, “I want to be just like him.“
Then there’s me, despising the mediocrity of my being. I realized I was allowing myself to be a product of society’s toxicity by adopting a way of thinking that I have to be somebody significant. This need for recognition is rooted in pride.
Remember that Christ himself, the Holy King, lived a life of a common man. He was born on a manger in a forgotten town, born to ordinary parents, and lived an ordinary life as a carpenter’s son before he started his ministry when he was about 30 years old.
Through that silly anime series, God confirmed to me that He has been exposing the dirt in my heart. Slowly, I got to understand why it takes a conscious effort to fade ourselves in the background and highlight God in all things. I learned to be more content with where He had placed me.
I told this to a close friend back then but I felt like I wasn’t able to articulate my reflections when I shared it with her. I wanted to emphasize excellence in all things, and at the same time, rejoicing in the mundaneness. It sounds like they’re two contrasting qualities but this article entitled Sell Yourself Short: The Rare Joy of Christian Humility had the right words and laid it out perfectly.
The author puts emphasis on what the Bible calls the believers to do: (1) not be conformed by the patterns of the world, (2) choose the lowest place and let God be the one to commend you, (3) be secure enough to be small.
Mathis, the author of the article, also pointed out the beauty of understatement. He wrote, “It is humble to understate certain realities (especially our own abilities and accomplishments) and allow our hearers to experience the rare joy (almost inaccessible in modern life) of discovering something is more impressive than promised. And it’s humble to understate ourselves such that some listeners may never know the full force of it — because we are secure enough in Christ to have our qualities go unacknowledged.”
Remember that Christ himself, the Holy King, lived a life of a common man. He was born on a manger in a forgotten town, born to ordinary parents, and lived an ordinary life as a carpenter’s son before he started his ministry when he was about 30 years old (Luke 3:23).
As His followers, we are called to do the same — to live in quiet boldness and faith. In Matthew 23:5-12, Jesus taught his disciples to embrace humility by not seeking acknowledgment from people.
Who are you trying to impress?
If you’ve been reading my previous posts and/or knows me personally, you know that I’ve been working from home for about three years now. I’d say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my 20’s.
The city life is fun, but only on the outside. On the inside, if I’ll be very honest, it was exhausting. I was chasing a lifestyle I never wanted, but was pressured to have.
I vaguely remember the things I’ve done to fit the culture of the corporate world, but I remember feeling insecure about the model of my phone, the brand of my accessories, the clothes I wear for work, and even my food choices. People would teach me that drinking alcohol is part of being an adult and that it’s totally uncool to avoid jokes about sex.
That was years ago but felt like it was only yesterday.
I was reminded of those memories again after meeting a guy in an event I recently attended. I didn’t know him well but in the short time that I spent with him, I noticed that he was always holding a glass of liquor on the rocks in his hand, talking on the phone often.
This man was funny, witty and I could tell he was a thoughtful person. He told many stories about his connections, friends who are wealthy, friends who are famous, friends who bought new cars and lived a fancy life. He spoke about money like an economist, and he was excited to share his knowledge of cooking. He took pride in his connections, and pride in being self-taught.
Life becomes meaningful when we start to define rather than measure.
I was smiling while listening to his stories, but it was like having one of those conversations in the office again. Conversations I want to enjoy but can’t. I want to be impressed but I wasn’t.
In the children’s book called The Little Prince, the boy said, “Grown-ups love figures… When you tell them you’ve made a new friend they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies? ” Instead they demand “How old is he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make? ” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.”
Are there people who truly know you?
Now that the world is in the middle of a pandemic, it made me realize that this craving for a life of grandiosity is a foolish thing to be bothered with. Both the rich and the poor, the achiever and the unaccomplished, the great and the ordinary will leave the world as ashes. Dust.
At one point in our lives, perhaps we have asked ourselves how we would create a so-called impact in the world before we die. We strive for greatness because we think that nobody will pay attention if we’re small people.
“I have to become a CEO, only then I can lead.”
“I have to play the lead role, only then I can inspire.”
“I have to be somebody first, only then people would believe.”
But aren’t we’re putting too much emphasis on the how? After all, everyone will leave a mark on earth one way or another. I think, more importantly, we should be asking ourselves about who will remember the teachings we taught and who will pass them onto others when we’re gone.
Anyone can be impressed by achievements, but only close friends see the little details that make you special. We could get too busy trying to impress so many people, wearing ourselves out to get their attention, but fail to point them to our true message. What was the effort for?
Having a few friends who know me well is better than lots of people who know a little about me. I’d rather have five people remember me as the joyful woman whose life was dedicated to pointing others to Christ than be referred by five thousand people as the tall girl who had over 1,000 followers on Facebook.
In the book The Little Prince, the boy said, “Of course, an ordinary passerby would think my rose looked just like you. But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she’s the one I’ve watered. Since she’s the one I put under glass, since she’s the one I sheltered behind the screen. Since she’s the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three butterflies). Since she’s the one I listened to when she complained, or when she boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she’s my rose.”
Are there people who truly know who you are and what you stand for? It is our friends and loved ones who will feel our absence once we leave earth. They are the ones who will notice the chair we once filled now empty, the books we used to read now unopened, the bed we used to occupy now untouched.
These are the people who will continue your mission. Are you communicating to them your life’s message?
By pursuing self-regard, we think we can find happiness from the applause of people. By trying to seem impressive, we steal God the praise that only He deserves. That’s not how our relationship with God was designed. We should be like clear glass that is able to shine his light before others effectively.
We are called to do excellent things, think excellent thoughts, speak excellent words, keep excellent intentions, and live an excellent life (Philippians 4:8). At the same time, we ought to do these things for the pleasure of God and not for the approval of man (Galatians 1:10).
It’s time we give to God our true worship. Humility, as C.S. Lewis said, is not about thinking less of yourself but thinking about yourself less. Let’s fill our thoughts about God and allow it to manifest in our words and actions.