Hey, Girlfriends! It’s Sunday and I’m writing you from an airplane seat on my way home from Boise, Idaho, where God threw a party of His Presence for 5,000 of us gathered there. They were a phenomenal group and, for me, it was love at first sight. My whole team and I really dig serving off the beaten path, so we were very anxious to get there but wondered if we should prepare ourselves for a fairly quiet group. Let me be clear. That is not what we got. I named them Noisy Boise within the first five minutes. They wanted Jesus and were willing to practically jump out of their seats to grab a word out of thin air from Him. Oh, man, I am so grateful to God for allowing me to worship shoulder-to-shoulder with such an incredible group. I will remember them (you, if you were there) for a very long time.
This weekend I did something I almost never do. I stayed over on Saturday night to have a retreat with my LifeWay team. To tell you that I’m crazy about them is a gross understatement. Through the years we’ve become a team in every sense of the word from the guys that do the set-up, sound, lighting…to the computer technicians that do the graphics for praise and worship and the power point for the messages…to the event team that actually puts on the conference and mans (or womans) it…to the entire platform team who walks into a very well prepared-for environment. Everybody does their part and, incidentally, nobody’s part is for sissies. We work our tails off. As I told Noisy Boise, we aren’t very slick but we aren’t minimalists either. We don’t give a group the least we can get away with. We drag our nearly dead bodies out of that auditorium on Saturday afternoon. The members of the team are as different as our roles and, joyously (and even unexpectedly), everybody from the truck drivers to the artists have become family. The down side for me is that the most sanguine of the siblings, yours truly, is one of the very few who lives outside of Nashville. They get to spend a ton of travel time together while I go solo. They often send me texts and cell pics from the airport and it makes me so jealous I can hardly stand it. This time we decided we’d all stay after the event, eat pizza together, play games (Travis hosted a rousing round of Fish Bowl and the card game Pit) and, my personal request, learn to do the Cha-Cha Slide. Play that funky music, white girl. It was hilarious. (And modest. Don’t mess with me here. It was just plain fun.) We had the best time ever! I laughed myself silly and dropped in my hotel bed last night thoroughly exhausted and deliriously happy. Full. God is so good. So fun. I think He had a blast last night. Maybe even laughed out loud.
But now for the primary reason I’m writing to you. Early this morning I realized that I had an all-day plane trip (HOURS!) in front of me with no extra reading material for a poor, exhausted mind. For an obsessive reader like me, that’s not a flight. That’s a train wreck. I’d studied all the way up so I hadn’t thought about the oversight till it was time to go home. Adding to the annoyance was some excellent reading material sitting on my back porch that I’m in the happy middle of right now. (I think I’ve told you before that, at almost all times, I have two books going that are totally separate from my research books: a Christian inspirational book of some kind and a novel. Forgot both.) I resorted to the magazine rack, grabbed three decent looking selections, slapped a fortune on the counter, and headed for the plane. One was Time’s 40 Anniversary Special, another was a Vanity Fair edition that looked more interesting this time than inappropriate and the third was a magazine my personal assistant really loves. It’s kind of a health and fashion thing with an over-40 flair to it. The cover looked pretty hip so I pitched it in the mix with a “What the heck.” Thumbing through it, I happened on an article that was not only well written. It was one of the most thought provoking secular articles I’ve read in a good while. (“More,” May 2008 Issue, p.90)
In the article entitled “My So-Called Genius” author Laura Fraser recounts her remarkable journey from whiz-kid-dom to an adulthood of unmet expectations and fairly ordinary life. Don’t let my crude synopsis keep you from reading the article for yourself because I won’t do it justice. I’d like to recap enough, however, to explain why I found it significant. By the time she was five she’d already been labeled “precocious” and told repeatedly how special she was. The next years did not disappoint. She was brilliant and darling and surpassed her peers impressively, drawing the attention of adults who conveyed to her in a myriad of ways that she was destined for greatness. Then came college where she entered an academic world of peers who, not coincidentally, were told the same thing. By her late forties, she’d accomplished many good things but the expectation of greatness and the sense that she’d never quite achieved it (despite a best seller) haunted her with feelings of failure. All the well-meaning forecasts had done nothing but cast a pall of perfectionism upon her and, as her consultant so aptly pointed out, “Perfectionists always lose.” The consultant confronted her with a very important challenge that I’ll paraphrase: “Must you write a great book? How about writing a good book?” Fraser describes how age and time had become precious gifts and how she’d come to reconcile the unreasonable expectations with her reasonable success. In doing so she really made me think about some things. Here are a few:
How careful we need to be – as parents, teachers, relatives, leaders, or observers – about telling gifted children how great they are going to be. It is a trap and a forecast Fraser claims rarely pans out. She points out the monumental difference between talent and having a clue what to do with it and (again paraphrasing) how genius rarely exempts people from having to work hard just like everybody else who wants to make it. I’m a big believer in encouraging young people and imitating the Apostle Paul with Timothy by telling them that they are extraordinarily gifted. BUT, as we learned this weekend in Boise, every gift is a trust placed in human hands by a holy God and it is up to each individual to develop the integrity, humility, and work-ethic to know what on earth to do with it. A gift never guarantees success. In the long run as well as the routine day-in and day-out, those with the grit to just keep doing the hard thing will often prove more effective. Gift without grit is a dang waste.
How profoundly wise God’s way is. If we’re willing to follow His paradoxical path on the winding roadmap of Scripture, we have the joy of side-stepping this ankle-breaking trap. So will a few children we’re privileged to train. Living just to be great will prove at least empty and at most unbearable. Spending ourselves for something infinitely greater, however, still fans our parched souls with the God-given need to matter, but relieves us of the relentless pain of being the “It” Person at the center of it. To live for the greatness of God IS to live the great life. Oh, I know we’ve heard it before but what if something in us clicked all the sudden? What if we all at once awakened to what a dream-killer perfectionism is? And to how pitifully small and unworthy a goal personal greatness is? We were meant for so much more. Every one of us who embraces the glory of God as our lofty purpose for living will end up doing great things precisely because we end up doing God-things. His holy hand rested on the least act renders the ordinary extraordinary. Far from the least but sadly uncelebrated, spooning soup into the mouth of the weak and bed-bound or manning the church nursery so a tired mom can go to Sunday School are acts of highest worship when offered in the Name of Christ. Though the arrogant and ignorant minimize and miss it, Christ beholds the sight like a breathtaking work of art, tilting His head and squinting His eyes to study each subtle detail. “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6).
Christ, the very One who called us to abundant, effective life and commanded us to splash in the cool springs of joy while living it, announced the secret to the great life without a hint of contradiction:
Pour it out lavishly, sacrificially for the glory of God and the good of man. Those with presence of mind and semblance of health are called to pour out the drink offering of their lives until the cup is turned completely over and every last drop of energy slips – perhaps unnoticed, uncelebrated – into the vast ocean of earthly need. The last imperceptible drop of your well-lived life will sound like a tidal wave hitting the floor of the Grand Canyon to the hosts of Heaven.
“I’m already great enough for both of us,” Christ says in effect, relieving the willing of their woeful burden. “Just follow Me.” For “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45).