Stop Being Useful

“How can I be useful?”

I heard myself ask that, again, for the third time in one night as a guest at my friends’ house, and it made me pause.

Kind of a funny way to ask if I can chop vegetables or set the table. Then again, this from someone who says, “If I were a trash can, where would I be?” instead of directly asking the location of an item. So I shrugged it off.

But then it happened again the next night, while helping our youth pastor move. I plowed through my wages of pizza and chips and said, “Okay, let’s get started! I hate standing around. I want to be useful!” And after hurrying to grab the biggest boxes I could possibly find that were still in the domain of things-I-can-lift, I volunteered to clean the bathrooms, as has been my tradition since…a really long time.


As I scrubbed tile with a toothbrush, I thought wondered why this was. Kind of strange, since I’m mildly germaphobic and don’t particularly enjoy cleaning. When did I start this?

Probably my junior year of high school, on a mission trip. I remembered volunteering in the pause where everyone awkwardly looked at the floor waiting for someone else to take the task so they could “organize the gym storage room” which really meant “get into a dodgeball war with each other then play basketball.” And everyone thanked me and I knew I had made the right choice.

Every work project, every time I help someone move, I always take the Windex and Clorox wipes and go straight for the bathrooms. Save the gloves for someone else, someone not quite as strong as I am. I have a toilet to scrub.

As I moved on to the baseboard, I started to understand why I volunteer for the same to-do list item every time. It’s the task nobody wants, and I can do it well and enthusiastically and be praised for it. It’s the closest equivalent to washing others’ feet like Jesus (and my alma mater—we got towels along with our diploma at graduation) told me to. More than any other task, it makes me feel useful.

And sometimes I forget:

I was not created to be useful.

I was created to bring glory to God.

On first glance, those seem like the same thing. Because, after all, isn’t God glorified when I work hard and do great things for him? Or, even more humbly, when I choose to do small things that no one else wants to do for him?

Isn’t God pleased when I scrub toilets to his honor and glory?

Yes. But only if I’m doing it to his honor and glory.

And I’m usually not.

Usually, I am doing it for my own glory, because I love to be appreciated. I love to serve, but heaven help the person who tries to serve me. No, heaven doesn’t need to help that person. I will help him. I will gently refuse any assistance and then proceed to take charge and give advice and listen and smile and throw away empty pizza boxes and scrub toilets.

I am happy to love people in spite of their flaws…but please stay away from me and mine. I don’t need someone to listen to me, to know me well enough to see when something’s wrong. I am just fine. Save your concern for someone else—someone not quite as strong as I am.

It’s not really to impress God or earn his forgiveness. I’m pretty confident in the salvation-by-grace alone thing. It’s a little simpler than that.

I just…need to be needed. Not by God. I want your approval and affirmation. I want to feel like it’s all right that I’m socially awkward and bulldoze conversations and overreact and twist the truth and cut into you angrily when you’ve pulled one of my rant triggers. Because, after all, usefulness covers over a multitude of sins.

Nope. That’s not it, for those of you keeping track of my Biblical accuracy at home. Love covers over a multitude of sins. Not me being useful and deserving your love. You deciding to love me anyway.


At one point in elementary school, my friends looked up the meanings of our names and shared them (my sister was quite excited that hers meant “Mighty Ruler”). Everyone else’s name told them something about themselves, deeming them “Gracious” or “Strong” or “Pure.”

Amy means “Greatly Loved.” And while that’s nice and all, I remember being just a little disappointed that it wasn’t about me. People could, and did, love me even when I didn’t deserve it one bit. Why couldn’t my name mean “Greatly Loveable”? I wondered.

Because I am not, actually, all that loveable. Not if you really know me, not if you catch me on my irritable days or know all my hidden faults or understand the reasons why I do what I do. And yet, people still love me. God still loves me. Not because I am useful. But because I am theirs—their daughter, their sister, their friend.

The same is true for you. No matter what you accomplish—how many awards you win, sermons you preach, children you raise to mature and godly adulthood, items you check off your bucket list, no matter how many toilets you scrub, you are loved because God loves you. It does not depend on you.

And that is terrifying and that is beautiful. Terrifying because it takes love out of my control and challenges me to be open and honest and vulnerable. Beautiful because it tells me I can stop trying so hard to be loved, because I already am, apart from the tasks I accomplish.

Greatly loved, in fact.


What does your name mean? (Hint: use a handy online site if you don’t know.) Has that word/phrase had an impact on your life?


  1. My name means “dirt.” Yup.

    Well, to be more precise, “Adam” means “earth,” which in the original Hebrew is synonymous with “man.” (I assume this comes from the account in Genesis of how God formed man out of dirt.)

    As much as I joke about my inelegant name, I find it very meaningful. It represents my worst failures and the greatest mercies of God. In Scripture, the first Adam represents the sin of humankind, but Christ, whom the Apostle Paul calls “the last Adam,” brings salvation by grace for sinners. “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

    By one interpretation, my name reminds me of the worst of who I am. By another interpretation, it reminds me that Christ loves me enough to save me by grace.

    Yes, I’ve overanalyzed a name that means “dirt,” but overanalyzing things is one of my spiritual gifts. 😉

  2. I love name meanings. Kacey comes from another Gaelic name meaning Brave. I don’t think I’d pick anything else. But it’s easy to let it be a point of pride — or a point of shame if I don’t think I’m living up to it.

  3. Kelly derives from the Gaelic for “bright-headed,” “war/strife,” or even “church.” I’ve heard it also means “warrior.” At certain points, I’ve disliked that my name means warrior because I am not a fighter or I didn’t want to fight things anymore. But it’s an Irish name and I love Ireland, so that’s cool. 🙂

    But as for feeling useful, I have that problem too. I love helping others because that is one of my spiritual gifts. But at some point, I begin to give too much. I want to be needed because I’m terrified of the opposite, but maybe that’s thinking in extremes. Accepting help is hard because I’m so used to being the one giving it.

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