Who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1983? What about the last eight Heisman Trophy winners, or the last dozen Nobel laureates?
All of these winners represent some very talented people. They were, at one point, at the top of their fields and everyone knew who they were and what great thing they accomplished. And then years passed, and what almost always happens ended up happening. Over time, who they were and what great accomplishment they claimed, faded into memory.
Now ask yourself these questions: Can you list three teachers who had an impact on your life? How about naming two friends in the last few years who helped you through a difficult time? Who was the last person who really made you feel appreciated and special?
These folks may not be famous, but chances are, you’ll never forget them. They made a difference in your life. They called you by name. They reached out to you and, in the process, transformed you in some meaningful way.
So why is it that we feel we must do something extraordinary to make a difference? If it’s not big and complicated it must not be worth doing at all. We often believe we must do this or accomplish that in order to have our life matter. And when the dream falls apart, life suddenly loses meaning.
I heard a story last week about a very successful businessman who recently had a set back in his career. He had a happy marriage and two wonderful children. But because his circumstances at work plagued him with feelings of inadequacy, self doubt took over and his whole world came crashing down. When compared with those he admired, his work heroes, he had accomplished very little and certainly not what he wanted. I wonder what his wife and children would say about that.
These difficult economic times will produce more stories like this one. We all know someone who has lost a job or is under the threat of losing one. It may even be happening to you. When our identity and value are wrapped up in what we do or have, this can produce feelings of insignificance, irrelevance and despair.
I think of Naaman, the big-shot military hero with one big problem: leprosy. He hears about a famous prophet, and heads off for a cure. The prescription comes not in a magic potion or a grand ceremony, but in a surprisingly simple way. The prophet Elisha tells Naaman to bathe seven times in the River Jordan. Elisha isn’t exactly what Naaman expects and the cure he gives insults Naaman’s sense of importance. After complaining mightily about the simple cure, about Elisha and the measly river, Naaman, at the urging of a servant, eventually goes to the river and is made clean. (2 Kings 5:1-19). Naaman found healing in an unexpected way from an unlikely source. It was not a king or other headliner of his day. Sometimes the simplest cure comes from the simplest people in our lives.
We are often like Naaman. We scan the horizon for the headliner or the grand scheme. If it’s not big in the eyes of the world somehow it isn’t valuable. We look at ourselves the same way. We forget that our children, friends and families don’t care about our grand achievements or whether we are a headliner, they just want our friendship, our touch and our hearts.
Jesus says to us today what he said to the leper “I do choose.” (Mark 1:41). He reaches out with his healing hand and touches our lives, giving us sustenance, strength and hope. This touch and healing does not always come in the way or through the source we expect. God often enters through the back door. But make no mistake, Jesus chooses us and then uses us in the work that makes a difference and stands the test of time.