Desires of the heart

My friend Andrew writes about the desire to be great — to leave one’s mark on the world, so that one will be remembered, that one’s name will not be forgotten. I know exactly what he’s talking about, although for me it’s slightly different.

When I was in high school, I was on my school’s Science Bowl team. One evening, as we were driving back from the regional competition, my teammates were joking around about what each of us would be famous for later in life: Lars would discover a new element, Eric would find a cure for cancer, and so on. Then someone mentioned me, and said something I’ve never forgotten: “Robin? Robin won’t be famous.” (pause). “But everybody will know him.”

It says something profound about me that that statement made such a mark on my memory. It articulated so well one of my fundamental desires: to be known. Not to be famous — there’s a difference. Famous people get tabloid articles written about them everytime they so much as sneeze. I’ll pass on that one, thanks. But what my Science Bowl teammate said about me sounded like the best of both worlds — if that were true, then I’d avoid all the downsides of being famous, while still getting what I consider to be the only real advantage: to be known. To be recognized. Not to be a nameless face in the crowd. To have others greet you by name and be glad to see you when you visit them, when you go to church, when you meet them by chance in the grocery store.

That desire interacts in some very interesting ways with the other great desire of my heart, to serve. To serve God, and to serve His servants. That’s why I’m heading off to Africa — to put my computer skills to good use in His service, by making my skills available to the other missionaries there. But as I mentioned, one of the things I love to receive is recognition from others. And I certainly get that when I help fix someone’s computer — they remember me years later. I’ve been out of college for over four years now, yet I keep on running into people who remember me rescuing their term paper off a dying floppy disk or some such thing. And I have to admit that it gives me a bit of pleasure to find out that I’ve been remembered for being helpful. As far as ego-boosts go, that’s a pretty healthy one, but nevertheless, am I helping people just so that they’ll remember me? Is that the reward I’m working for? Jesus had a few things to say about that sort of thing, after all.

Fortunately, I don’t think I’m really doing all this just for the praise of others. When I take the time to examine my motives, I find that I really am just wanting to help. It’s nice that people remember me kindly for helping them, but I’d still help them even if they wouldn’t remember me at all. That’s a relief.

But there’s something else, something to which I fall victim much more often. And again, my friend Andrew has it nailed. (Thanks, Andrew!) In the second half of his post, he goes on to talk about how the desire to be great can twist even our desire to serve God into something perverted, a kind of “servanthood contest” where one is trying, not to serve God to the best of one’s ability, but to somehow be a “better” servant than everyone else. Once you actually look at that desire, of course it’s ridiculous. But it got me thinking — the other great desire of my heart, as I mentioned, is service. And I’m heading off — to Africa, no less! — as a missionary. It would be far too easy to get sucked into the “more spiritual than thou” game. Have I ever been tempted to play it?

And suddenly as I phrased the question, I had my answer. Yes, from time to time, I certainly have been. I get tempted to look down on those whose calling is not to the mission field, but to a “comfortable” life in the United States — forgetting, of course, that God has called them to service, too. In fact, some of those very same people, that I’m tempted to look down on, are people whose shoelaces I’m not even worthy to tie. True prayer warriors, whose daily prayers for hundreds and hundreds of missionaries are only known to God — for now. In heaven, though, we’ll find out. We’ll see a saint, covered in the glory so bright it almost hurts our eyes — and when we peer into their face, we’ll recognize that small, unassuming elderly woman who always showed up at the prayer meetings, or the man we only knew as the church janitor. And then we’ll hear about the thousands upon thousands of lives their prayers touched, and we’ll be amazed.

No, there’s nothing inherently special or spiritual about being a missionary. It’s just another way to serve God.