How to Measure Significance


The young woman answered the door with tear-stained cheeks and eyes wrinkly with insomnia.  She was a loved and loving teacher of rowdy, insane middle-schoolers by day while at night…an anguished soul trying to hold teenage children together and her own heart through a frightening darkness: divorce possibly looming in the near future.

A neighbor came to check on her, sat and listened in silence and compassion to the outpourings of grief, anger, helplessness.  Strangely, there was a comfort for both of them in the give and take, the prayer and caring exchanged.  Was that significant ‘work’?  Success, fulfillment?

Have you figured out yet how to define a successful, fulfilling life for yourself?  So many people with noble hearts flounder in guilt and condemnation.  They feel desperately guilty that they are not reaching thousands as they strive to live a life that matters.  I remember this feeling a while back there, especially while changing diapers, wiping runny noses, and making peace in tussles over toys.

Or another category of noble-hearted people of all ages are those who are overwhelmed souls, so discouraged with it all that they settle for just getting by.  Sad, really sad.  Nobody wants that for long.

Or some, by contrast,  scramble to do as many things as possible, none of it efficiently as intended or with excellence, tired day and night, marking days by coffee in the morning and at night, trying to tick off one more ‘chore’ on an impossibly long to-do list.  Really?  Is that all there is?

The questions of what matters, what’s significant can loom as large as Mt. Kilimanjaro.  There may be no breath in us to sustain the climb to find the answer at the top…and certainly no time to figure it out.  We are too busy running our lives, businesses, families by cultural norms.

I feel this challenge today: what is significance in our daily lives?

Jesus said that if you simply give someone a cup of cold water in His name, that you will be rewarded.  Seems like He’s saying that this is important, not trivial.

Ordinary water…really?…that I give to a single person who is thirsty, merely and mildly thirsty… or maybe life-threateningly thirsty??  That’s it?

So would you feel more significant if you are transported to a village in Sudan and you’re handing a cup of water from a freshly dug well to an African child?  Is that child or any other child more important than your own child, trying to get attention with the all-time favorite strategy of whining, or your mate/significant other, who appears self-sufficient on the outside but needs your affirmation more than the accolades of co-workers?  What about the elderly person sitting in a wheelchair on the front lawn in your neighborhood?

So who and what make us feel significant, successful?

Why do we feel guilty to live and love just where we are?

Every person we encounter is important and needs love.  Could be a smile or heartfelt hug, a wad of wildflowers in hand, or a listening ear for just a few moments in a busy day. Such a detail might tilt a heart back toward light, especially in a world crazy-hurrying with too much info and too little time to love.  Certainly the little things are significant to the one receiving.  Who can measure that?


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