When You’re Afraid You Don’t Matter

When I was a freshman in college, there were small vases of flowers on every one of the hundreds of tables in our Dining Commons. One particular guys’ floor enjoyed finding couples on a lunch date and casually placing dozens of the vases, one by one, on the table between them before walking away, whistling cheerfully.

Flowers

Besides that little prank, I didn’t see much purpose behind the flowers. When I asked why they were changed out every week, the upperclassmen told me a Taylor University alumni couple had left a fund in their will that specified a certain amount of money to be used exclusively for flowers in the dining hall.

Not financial aid. Not a building fund. Not artwork or landscaping or some other campus feature with a gold plaque bearing their names and a message to be remembered by.

Nineteen-year-old Amy was not impressed. While I thought the flowers were pretty, being a thrifty (read: cheap) person, I rolled my eyes at the waste of money. If we only had flowers on special occasions, like Christmas or graduation, we’d appreciate them more, I reasoned, and it would save a lot of money that could go toward more important things. And if it had to be flowers, why not plant a garden? These flowers just kept on dying, kept on needing to be replaced.

They didn’t last. Not the individual flowers and not the money in the fund, which ran out during my sophomore year. What good is a legacy that doesn’t last? I wondered.

Two years later, I had a similar conversation with one of my professors about the expensive spiral staircase and other unnecessary frills of the new science center.

Instead of commending my good sense and thrift, he said something to me that I’ve been thinking of ever since: God isn’t just the God of justice and righteousness and truth. He is the God of beauty. He is the God of small things and common grace. And because we are made in his image, creating and appreciating beautiful things is an act of worship.

It made me realize that when the Bible says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above,” it doesn’t just mean the major blessings of family, freedom, faith, and the other things we usually remember to be thankful for. It means the sound of laughter, whipped cream on top of a milkshake, a sprinkler on a hot day, a masterpiece painting, and a bouquet of dandelions picked just for you.

From then on, I’ve tried to appreciate beauty more deeply, see the everyday grace around me as worthy of notice and gratitude, and live more generously, without worrying about the practical value of things.

I think God has called some people to an impressive legacy, to the kind of tasks that we find worthy of praise and applause, and I am so thankful for those who accepted that call, sometimes at great cost.

But sometimes, I think Christians especially are too focused on doing great things for God, being remembered as giants of the faith. Many of us secretly want to write brilliant books or get applause or have someone name their kid after us because of the impact we had. We put value on the people in front of churches, think the great cloud of witnesses consists only of headlining heroes in the Bible, and hope to join their ranks.

We want buildings and scholarship funds and gold plaques. We want a legacy.

What would happen if we were content with leaving behind flowers instead?

Let me tell you something: your life isn’t just worthwhile if you’ve made a list of influencers, if you were voted Most Likely to Succeed (or weren’t and succeeded anyway), if you’ve made a name for yourself or accomplished every one of your goals.

This is a reminder for all of us, for the tired-out parents and stressed-out students, for the twenty-somethings trying to figure out what to do with their lives and the retirees trying to sort out what they did, for the lifelong losers and the overachievers, for everyone who secretly wonders why they’re even trying.

For the alumni couple who left flowers to their alma mater to make the world a little more joy-filled.

Whenever you worry about what you’re accomplishing remember this: God sees you and loves you. And that makes ordinary things—unnoticed sacrifices, daily routines, honest prayers—beautiful.

Because, in reality, most of the cloud of witnesses are unnamed and unnoticed, except to God. The most important part of your legacy will be the ways you’ve changed those around you that you’ll probably never even realize. And I am convinced that most of the people to whom God says, “Well done, good and faithful servant” will be people who were quietly obedient in loving those around them.

So, to the couple who placed flowers at Taylor University, whoever you were, whatever your story was…thank you. It’s a few years too late for me to appreciate those flowers you put on our tables every week, but I now appreciate all flowers more because of you.

Thanks for the legacy.

9 comments

  1. I sort of had a moment like that a few years ago at college. I’m not normally someone to think spending money on art is necessarily a waste, being an artist myself. But sometimes I am too practical for my own good, so one time when I was in the bible building at college and saw that some new pictures were hung up in spots that had been bare before, I sorta thought of it as a waste.

    It wasn’t a huge deal to me, but part of me thought those walls looked just fine before the pictures were hung, and either way, there were other places on campus that needed an updated look or maintenance, so why not spend money on that instead? (the dorms didn’t look shabby, but were very far behind the rest of the campus in terms of looks). I kinda told myself that it wasn’t a big deal and that I was glad they were tryin to make the campus look as good as possible.

    One thing I’ve though about when it comes to artistic updates to a building or campus is that many aesthetic things actually have a purpose. I can handle going to class in a building that’s ugly. At the same time, being an artistic and visual person makes appearances matter to me on some level. If something looks good, it calms me on some level, and makes me happier with my surroundings. I could drive an old clunker and be happy as long as it worked well, yet if I like at least one thing about the way it looks, I actually will feel good about owning that car. With college or whereever I work and live, my stress is mitigated greatly if I can stop and look around and see magnificence of beauty.

    On another level, when a campus, business, homeowner, etc puts a lot of work into maintenance and artistic touches to a building, it shows that they work hard and care about things being excellent. They pay attention to detail and show that everything matters, not just their classes, and not just community service. And if it is a school that teaches art, an aesthetically pleasing campus helps potential students feel like the campus may be right for them. It is harder for a campus to prove that they can teach art if it can’t make it’s own school grounds look nice.

    With the pictures and priorities, I look back now and think that although there were other places that needed an update, something like the dorms is probably less of a priority because far less people actually go in the dorms. Mainly just the people who live there and a few guests.

    1. Glad I’m not the only one who has sometimes struggled with this, Autumn. I appreciate your thoughts–it’s true that art and beauty have a profound impact on how we perceive our surroundings, probably more than we even realize.

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