For someone who is less than five feet tall (barely!), I dream pretty big! It’s a human thing, really—we all have this humanness inside of us that makes us dream, dream of being great, doing things, going places, mattering. My great struggle is that I want to matter, I want to put a dent in this universe that is labelled “Emma”, I want to make a difference. And in one sense, there’s nothing wrong with that. But ambition can be a slave-driver. It can define you.
Recently, I’ve let myself dream pretty big. I will find a more efficient cure for both leprosy and tuberculosis, I decided. I will be the main editor/person-in-charge of a newspaper that will change the way people view the world. I will write a novel that blows even the Bible off the bestseller list (okay, now I’m exaggerating, but you get the point).
See, we all want to matter. And maybe you don’t think about this as much as I do, but I do want to put a dent in the universe. I picture the edge of existence, full of stars, with the whole creation wrapped in a membrane—and on that membrane is a parking space with a sign that says, “Reserved for Emma Dumitra”. The universe is obviously just waiting for me to break ground.
An Abundance of Mattering
In September, I read “An Abundance of Katherines” by John Green. While a lot of things about that book I cannot relate to at all (like, uuuh 19 relationships?? LOL) something in the main character, Colin Singleton, resonates with me because he wants to matter. John Green makes the distinction between a prodigy and a genius—a prodigy is a smart and talented person that everyone thinks will go places, a genius is someone who does go places. And frankly, I want to be one of those geniuses. I want to do something that will go down in history , that will change the world, that will make a difference (preferably at little personal cost of course—now if that isn’t a silly thought).
To a degree, I think we all want that.
Sometimes I really, fully, wholly, and completely believe that my single greatest ambition is to break a world record by writing one of the best stories ever written. Or maybe I will invent something! (Like the Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, maybe it’s time to read some John Green.) I am obsessed with mattering.
The question is, why?
The weird thing about meaning, is that often the people who think about it a lot have an odd combination of really high and really low self-esteem. It’s all over the place! On one hand I think that I am God’s gift to humankind, that the world is just waiting for me, that I will magically solve every problem on this earth from global warming to racism to candy being bad for you. At the same time I think that I’ll never be able to do anything, that I don’t matter because I haven’t done anything great.
Q: Why am I obsessed with mattering?
A: Because I don’t believe that I already matter.
(Is the word “matter” starting to sound funny to you? It is to me.)
“Stop Trying to be so Darn Big!”
On Thanksgiving weekend, I walked into my best friend’s church just as the sermon was winding down. The pastor was preaching on Ecclesiastes. He talked about human ambition (although he didn’t use those words) and he said the reason that we people struggle so much with purpose is because we’re trying to be too big.
“Stop trying to be so darn big!” he boomed.
Now for someone who is just under five feet tall (not me) and fairly ambitious and prideful (definitely not me), well, that kind of smacked me in the face. Humility. And humility fits into every part of our life.
“Stop trying to be so darn big!”
I like trying to be big; I do. I walk into a room and I do a head count: this many people are shorter than me. SCORE! If somebody is shorter than me and my age, I give my self-esteem bonus points. I also love attention and admiration, the lime-light if you will, because it makes me feel important. Like, if these people here think I’m important enough to pay attention to, maybe one day I’ll do something really big, something really worth it. Maybe then I’ll matter. Don’t get me wrong, ambition in and of itself isn’t bad, but the motivation behind the ambition is everything. If I find my identity in ambition, in work, in anything that is not God, I’m never going to be satisfied. I’m never going to matter enough!
Littleness—humility—is being exactly who I’m supposed to be, not more, not less. Pride is the opposite—making myself greater, wanting to play God (let’s face it, we’ve all done it). Pride is also making myself less than I am. When I put myself down, I’m not giving God enough credit for his creation.
Little is Big!
In the end we find that little is often bigger than big. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life…” This doesn’t mean we cannot or should not do great things. We all have our share of bigger and smaller dents to put in the universe. If you think about it however, every big thing is made up of little things, and the little things are so much harder to do well in life. These are the things that, although we don’t get as much attention for them, matter the most! Little is big, people, because it is being exactly who we are meant to be. I’m not just saying that because I’m short!
The point is this: you and I, we matter. A lot! There’s nothing we can do or not do to matter any more or less to the God of the universe. If God defines me, then ambition is a gift and I get to dream big—but I don’t find my identity, my mattering, in my achievements. I’ve already found it in Someone else.
Fall 2012, Emma Dumitra.
Images from bilogos.org, johngreenbooks.com, and phototakingirl.blogspot.com.