Confessions of a Significance Junkie
JULY 6, 2023
Ever gather around a bonfire – great warmth, great vibe – and think, “This is an amazing fire. Wonder what brand of logs these are…”
What about a refreshing cold drink on a hot day? As you slake that savage thirst, do you say to yourself, “Wow, these must be designer ice cubes” ?
Obviously, the answer to these completely absurd questions is “no.”
But equally absurd is my own unyielding insistence in making my name and my work and my personal sacrifices known. I matter and by whatever means necessary, I must get people to understand that.
Quick story about an embarrassing personal failure…
A film I wrote and directed was going to be shown at a film festival. I attended because I was told it had won an award and all the winning films were shown – except mine (looking back, this detail was probably mentioned somewhere in an email). I was there, my work was being honored, and yet I was furious. I’m talking CAT 5. Unhinged livid. Why? You’ll love this: because I had been robbed – robbed of the chance to tell the people congratulating me afterwards, “Thanks, but it’s not about me. We were blessed with a really great team, blah, blah, blah…” I was SO ready to be gracious and humble and self-deprecating – utter bull you-know-what. Truth was, down in the deepest reaches of my heart, I could not have BEEN more proud and preening. If I had been outwardly boastful in a really gross, off-putting way, at least I would have been honest with myself. This unexpected event laid absolutely bare my true motivation – and it wasn’t good.
Often it seems like our biggest struggle is to make a living through our job — and God knows that is tough. But if you think about it, far more exhausting and soul-draining is the day-in, day-out fight to achieve a feeling of significance. There are no days off with that gig and it is a merciless taskmaster. Looking back, that’s what I was looking for that night at the film festival — not just the surface level of praise, but that soul-satisfying, bone-deep feeling of importance. Significance. Like a junkie, my mouth had been watering in anticipation of a fix and when it didn’t appear, I was mightily pissed.
This burden of making ourselves great and important and significant in the eyes of others is a terrible weight to carry – a Sisyphean task if there ever was one. And here’s the saddest part: we were never meant to carry that burden.
My dear friend and Key Life legend, Erik Guzman, is an MBA and he put it this way: in economics, nothing has value in and of itself. Value is simply what someone is willing to pay for something. Well, we know what was paid for us to be reconciled to God and it was a stomach-churning and scandalously high price. Put another way, God’s grace has already set the market value on our lives. So why then would we waste our days fighting to gain what we’ve already been freely given?
That burning log and that melting ice cube… the more they progress toward fulfilling their purpose, the more they diminish, eventually becoming nothing. Same with us. It’s not that we shouldn’t strive to do great things, but true greatness is already ours because of Jesus — ‘great’ not because of who we are, but whose we are. Now, that onerous and unbearable burden of achievement and significance… it’s not ours to carry anymore. And understanding that gives new understanding to the idea of God increasing and us decreasing. We seem to struggle with that, thinking it’s God taking something away. The truth is, He is taking something away, but that ‘something’ isn’t like a kid losing his favorite toy – it’s like a slave ‘losing’ his chains. It’s a ‘something’ that would have eventually ground us down and stolen our joy had we kept it. He takes away – if we allow it – something that slowly kills us and in return we get freedom. Seems like a pretty good deal to me.
You’ve heard that phrase, “Preach the Gospel. Die. Be Forgotten.” It’s attributed to Nikolaus Ludwig, Count von Zinzendorf, an Austrian noble born in 1700. Obviously (and ironically), Count Nick somehow blew it because we do remember his name. But what truth there, right? We have to – [sigh] – I have to stop trying to sacrifice to gain significance. Someone already sacrificed more than we can imagine to make us more significant than we could ever dream.
Listen, everything done for God’s kingdom is noticed (Matthew 6:1-6). It is. But let’s embrace the quiet Christ-like beauty of service and sacrifice done without anyone’s acclaim or even anyone else’s awareness. This desperate, scrambling, clawing quest at building our own legends, our so-called legacies — screw it. May we burn up like that log. Melt away like that ice cube. Leave nothing behind. Give every last ounce for His glory, NOT in an arduous slog toward achieving significance, but with joyful creativity and a lightness of spirit knowing that, because of Jesus’s finished work, we already are significant.