The Courage to Stay Small

In a recent Whatsapp conversation with a good friend, I posed these questions: “Can you become someone well known and still maintain your integrity? Can you be great in the world’s eyes and still be humble? Can you be great and not lose your way?” The conversation was in response to a well known organization that recently released a statement about the organization’s questionable leadership practices.

My initial response to this organization was not kind and I am embarassed to admit it. My inner “Nasty people will have their come uppance!” arrogance was quickly confronted by a Holy Spirit willing to continue working on my heart. As quickly as the thought arrived, a deep sadness replaced it.

How do we lose our way so quickly? How do we fall for the bright lights and shallow praise over and over again, ignoring the big heart issues, willing to give up our integrity for a short dance in the spotlight?

Thankfully, I listened to the prompt and began my own soul searching.

This searching and self reflection brought me to my writing. When I first began to write publicly, I was so excited to be writing, so anxious to begin something that I had wanted to do for a long, long time. I would get emails from friends saying “Oh! I love that you are writing! I love your words!” and this encouragement reached a hungry, willing part of my heart. Early on I discovered the ‘daily stats’ section on my blog. It was so exciting when I had 10 people who came to Communicating Across Boundaries. Then 30, then 40, then 100! It was amazing! People were reading my words and my words resonated! Then one day, I thought there was a mistake. Within a short time, 4,000 people had come to my site. I started getting comment after comment from complete strangers. Someone Important had discovered my blog, my words. At the time, it was the uprising in Egypt and the start of the Arab Spring. My daughter was in Egypt and I wrote about her. I wrote honestly and from a position of anonymity. When the response came, I felt anything but anonymous. I couldn’t peel myself away from the movement on the stats page.

I became obsessed. With a current world population of almost 8 billion people, my words had reached a whopping 4,000. Wow.

Hopefully, you’re seeing the humor of all of this with me. I thought I was hitting the big numbers. A quick reminder of the world’s population was all it took to bring me down from my floating cloud of glory to a hard earth bump.

I’ve since realized that yesterday’s internet sensation or hero is tomorrow’s villain and spam.

But the bigger issue is the message all around me that I am so willing to absorb. The message to get, have, or be more. More posessions, more house, more education, more status, more followers, more influence. I am assaulted with this from sun up until sun down in blatant and subtle ways throughout the day.

How do I have the courage and the willingness to stay small?

It is critical that I learn to live beyond the messages of more, to live securely in the message of “enough.”

On a side note, it helps immensely to have adult children. They keep me incredibly and delightfully grounded. But, it’s not their job to call out their mom on her striving for more.

This I know: Striving to be bigger and more is exhausting, defeating, chaotic.

Enough is calming. Enough is sobering. Enough is freeing.

A constant striving to be bigger and more leaves me depleted and continually searching for contentment. If I just get this, then I will be content. If I just get one more degree, one more follower, one more writing piece accepted…the list is never ending.

As I write and reflect on the courage to stay small, I remember an incident from a number of years ago. I applied to a graduate school program. I was convinced that I would get in to this program. After all, I reasoned, I’ve watched mere children of 21 years get into this program. The program will be so happy to have one such as me. I mean, what wasn’t to love? My writing was good, my essay sound, my background impeccable. Oh – except for the grades I received in my nursing program, but that was a long time ago.

I was soundly rejected. The day I received my rejection I cried until there were no more tears. I knew in that moment, I was not enough. I would never be enough. And then I called one of my brilliant brothers – in this case, the youngest one. The one who I lovingly offered a scowl and a doll to when he was a tiny baby. I thought I had cried enough tears, but they came on again at the sound of his voice. I tearfully told him the story.

He listened. He comforted. And then he said something that I’ve come back to over and over. He said “I think you need to figure out why it matters so much.” He then reminded me of a C.S. Lewis essay that came from a lecture Lewis gave in 1944.

In this essay, CS Lewis takes a profound look at our desire as humans to be “insiders.” He calls it “the inner ring.”

“I believe that in all men’s lives at certain periods, and in many men’s lives at all periods between infancy and extreme old age, one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside.” “As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion: if you succeed there will be nothing left.”

This inner ring can be in any area of life…whether it’s about academics, status, belonging, or influence. We are not born understanding these rings or how to get into them.

At the beginning of the essay, Lewis poses this question: “I will ask only one question—and it is, of course, a rhetorical question which expects no answer. In the whole of your life as you now remember it, has the desire to be on the right side of that invisible line ever prompted you to any act or word on which, in the cold small hours of a wakeful night, you can look back with satisfaction? If so, your case is more fortunate than most.”

To be a part of that inner ring often means acting or speaking in ways that we end up regretting, we forget who we are, we lose our way, all in the quest to get to the inner ring. Sometimes getting to the inner ring involves giving up our integrity, our honesty, and pretending we are someone who we aren’t.

Call it influence, status, or the inner ring – it all leads to a similar place.

This brings me to my initial questions of my friend, Rachel: “Can we become someone well known and still maintain our integrity? Can we be great in the world’s eyes and still be humble? Can we be great and not lose our way?”

Lewis’ response to the dilemma of the “Inner Ring” is to break the cycle. “The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it.” If we break this cycle, we will no longer wear ourselves out by trying so hard to make it, by striving so desperately for ‘more.’

Breaking the cycle of longing for the inner ring, whatever it is for you, for me, is about the courage to remain small. It is the courage to not seek an inner ring, to not strive for more. It is the courage to seek God first, middle, and last. It is the courage to give any praise or influence we do have or receive into the capable hands, heart, and mind of the omnipotent God of the Universe.

The courage to remain small is perhaps best worded in Matthew’s Gospel “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”* May I have the courage each day to remain small, to lose my life in the service of the One who must remain large.

Do not despise the day of small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.

Zechariah 4:10

*Matthew 10:39

Photo Credit: https://www.instagram.com/arunbabuthomas/

5 thoughts on “The Courage to Stay Small

  1. A lesson I have been learning the last few years. A lot less pressure when you are small and as a treasured girlfriend has told me repeatedly you never know who you are influencing. The best of both worlds and one that requires faith.

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  2. John 3:30
    He must increase and I must decrease.

    Don’t we all want to be the “disciple that Jesus loved”, one of the big three in the inner circle? It takes real security in our position and love of Christ to allow ourselves to be seated at the lower end of the table and be content.

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  3. I do love this reflection, the Zechariah verse, the Inner Ring essay. All are such good pointers back to humility. And if you let this comment make you feel in the least bit special, I’ll delete it immediately!!

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