Today I Will Not Change the World

I’m convinced that a steady diet of missionary biographies and fantasy epics ruined me for ordinary life.

But really, though. In elementary school, I read Hero Tales (stories of the greats of the faith) and adventure books, paging through more death-defying situations in a week than even the most quest-prone hero could in a lifetime.

In high school, it was various martyr stories like Jesus Freaks, along with teen Christian living books like Do Hard Things or Make Your Mark that assured me that you, yes you, could change the world. And, of course, more fiction where heroes and heroines lived exciting lives and also managed to be incredibly witty. From Bonhoeffer to Atticus to Bilbo, my heroes were people who went out there and did stuff.

This was what my class chose as our senior quote. I was pretty sure it didn't really mean anything.

This was what my class chose as our senior quote. I was pretty sure it didn’t really mean anything.

Those were the stories that mattered, biography or fiction. The stakes were high, the choices were hard, and the lines were drawn between good and evil with people standing their ground on one side or the other.

There’s nothing wrong with that, really.

Except the years went by….

And I didn’t change the world.

And my life didn’t turn into a page-turning novel.

And I did some hard things—even some impressive things—and they didn’t make me feel fulfilled.

And most days were shockingly devoid of explosions, hostage negotiations, cryptic messages, or people shooting at me.

If I’m honest, I still feel a little disappointed about this. Most of my choices don’t seem to matter. Most of my days don’t seem worthy of a biography, or even a memoir. Most of my adventures are only daydreams.

I also get super stressed out reading articles like this one. Like, "What am I doing with my life?" sort of stressed out.

I also get super stressed out reading articles like this one. Like, “What am I doing with my life?” sort of stressed out.

This is why I identify with Naaman. Random Old Testament character, a foreign general who did nothing but win…and also get leprosy. When he hunted out the prophet Elisha for a healing, the prophet told him to bathe in the River Jordan, and he would be clean.

And Naaman stormed off, furious, complaining that Elisha should have done some hand-waving hocus pocus, or at least sent him to a cleaner, more dignified river.

His servants called him out on the real reason behind his protests: “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

They’ve got you there, Naaman. You’re a glorious warrior, rich, brave, and in charge. You’d have taken any quest, any challenge, to get your health back. But the prophet—and the prophet’s God—didn’t ask you to do that. That’s not going to be your story. He asked you to do something simple. Something humiliating. Something you don’t quite understand.

He asked you to obey.

I understand Naaman’s resistance, even his anger. Sometimes I get angry too, or at least annoyed. Why isn’t my life more interesting? Why don’t story-worthy things happen to me? Why did God not set the stage, arranging dramatic events perfectly around me, so I could be the hero?

You can probably guess the answer: because I don’t need to be the hero. What I need is a little humility.

I need the faith to offer up my little choices to God. I need the wisdom to see the fight against sin as the epic, high-stakes battle it is instead of surrendering early. I need the courage to give God my tired days, my halfhearted efforts, my small obediences so he can use them in his story instead of focusing so much on being the star of mine.

Today I will not change the world. And that is okay, because that’s not what God has called me to do today. Today, tomorrow, the next day, he has called me to be faithful. And that’s what makes a good story in the end.

14 comments

  1. Have you read “Mad at God” by J.S. Park? It;s got a lot of good stuff about it, but there’s a really good part about whatever you do for God and how worthwhile it is.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately too. Life isn’t made in the big stuff, in the adventures that most of us will never have. It’s made in the small things and everyday choices. Life is made of… everyday life.

    1. You said it, Alina! And if we miss those everyday things, we’ll wake up and realize we wasted our lives always hoping they would turn out to be something a little more epic.

  3. Great stuff. For me, when I’ve struggled with those type of thoughts and discontented attitudes, God always brings me back to the Cross. I’m reminded that the change that the world (and I) need has already been wrought. Jesus defeated sin and death. Battle over. Epic moved to epilogue. Mic dropped. 🙂

    1. I like it, Ben. I don’t need to save the world. Jesus already did. (Also, I totally imagine the disciples saying things like “Mic dropped” whenever Jesus seriously burns the Pharisees…)

  4. I’ve done this a bit growing up, though a bit less in terms of saving the world and more interns of the person I want to be and, when I was little, the desire to have an adventure. One of my favorite books was The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson, a world where those 12 and younger were survivors of a disease and had to rebuild society in a world without adults. Part of me sort of wished that could happen so I could live that adventure, but then I felt guilty because that would mean all the adults around me would be dead. I also thought a bit about how adventure and hardship really worked, and realized I would probably just end up getting killed in that scenario, especially considering how unathletic I am and how impractical I was in some cases when I was that age. Between all that, I dismissed my longing for that kind of adventure.

    When it comes to adventure, I think we also have to realize that a hero’s day to day life, even on a heroic journey, is frought with boring pauses and time between battles. Stories just pick out the most interesting parts and feed them to us.

    When it comes to heroes, a more cynical person might say that with all that effort, not even the most heroic change the world. They may feed a thousand starving people one day, but there are still plenty more starving people to take the place of that thousand, for instance. But I’d say they have changed the world, but I also wonder what’s the quota for people helped before we say someone has changed the world? I’ve sort of decided that if I only change one person’s life or only one person likes the stories I write, that’s ok. I’ve started realizing/telling myself that if God simply used me as a catalyst to help one person, especially if that one person went on to help thousands, it would be worth it.

    I’ve realized that each person both helps and hurts those around them more than they realize. You’ve probably been a bit of a hero for more people than you think 🙂

    1. Autumn, I love you point about how even in the most exciting story, not everything is adventure all the time. We do get the most exciting parts told to us, so it’s not a fair comparison.

      Even more, though, I love your point about being content with changing those around you, even in small ways, rather than changing the world. If more of us remembered that on a daily basis, I think we’d be more content looking back on our lives overall instead of wasting them chasing some big “worldchanging” type activities or dreams that might not be from God.

      1. Yep, especially since if we change even one person’s life, we’ve changed the world, just not on a scale where a lot of people are going to notice.

        Sometimes I wonder how safe it is to try and force ourselves to ‘change the world’, at least unless God told us to try in a certain fashion. The main char in one of my favorite animes is someone who’s been through a lot of trauma and far from perfect. But ever since he was young, he wanted to be a hero, but had to watch the results of warfare repeatedly. He eventually tries to force world peace by fighting for the Holy Grail so that he could change the world by asking the Grail to end violence, but he saw that trying to force that goal only brought about more destruction. I think that’s partially played out in history with some people who may have had good intentions to spread the gospel, but did so by trying to force conversions, or not giving new converts the right tools to understand Christianity like they should. And we still feel the echoes of that today, many people see Christianity as evil.

        I guess all that to say that maybe we need to be careful about our desire to change the world. That desire can be so strong that we go about it the wrong way, and try to force what we pereive as positive change rather than listening to how God may want us to change the world. If people back then had spread the gospel in the way God wanted them too, for instance, maybe less people would hate religion.

  5. I like to remember this: What you do today can dramatically affect the life of one other person. You very well may change their world.

    We get caught up in numbers when, honestly, if each person were to change one other person’s world today, tomorrow would be heaven.

  6. Thanks, Amy! This was wonderful! It definitely echoes what I’ve been learning this year about not disregarding the mundane and seeing those elements as valuable opportunities for good in my life. I appreciate the distinction you make between being the star of our own stories and instead letting God use our stories in His grander story.

    1. I like the way you put “not disregarding the mundane.” Because it’s true…I tend to take the little things for granted. Glad you’re learning that lesson along with me!

  7. You grew up on the same diet of books I fed my kids. I appreciate your down to earth response to such high hopes! It does take awhile to get over the optimistic, graduate notion that the world is waiting with baited breath for us to discover the epic story we’re meant to live.

    Faithfulness will leave a much better legacy.

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