On Meaningful Work: No Small Parts

Saturday, July 23, 2016

“There are no small parts. Only small actors.”

It’s the most cliché (and not entirely consoling) piece of advice offered to those who find themselves discouraged when the cast list is finally posted and, despite the hours of hard work put into perfecting a pirouette or polishing a solo, actors find themselves relegated to the ensemble. I’ve certainly been there before.

It’s not a bad place to be, the ensemble. I might even argue it’s more fun than being the lead because there’s less pressure on you. You can take a slight misstep in that dance break and there’s a good chance the audience will be so busy watching everyone else they won’t notice your stumble. And if you happen to forget a lyric while you’re singing with a dozen other people, your castmates will keep the integrity of the song intact. There’s more room to free yourself up to simply enjoy the process when you don’t feel like the whole show rests on you.

But what always upset me in this situation was not a sense of entitlement so much as it was the aching desire to do something more. And not only the desire, but the feeling that I was meant to do more, that I was talented and capable enough to do so much more. And yet I was denied the opportunity to show it.

I look at the people out there who are doing big things — Olympic athletes, Broadway stars, award-winning writers, influential speakers, musical prodigies, charity directors, political leaders — and I wonder how I can possibly be making a difference in the world doing work that feels so comparatively insignificant, writing posts that reach a handful of people and hoping I’ll change them, somehow, because of it, but knowing I lack the influence of more established writers.

As a blogger I hope that the words I take the time to so lovingly and sincerely craft reach and resonate with the people who need to hear them most — to offer them hope, love, and perspective. But sometimes my search for meaning manifests itself in obsessively checking my metrics and the number of comments and “likes” I receive. Is it meaningful if only one person reads my post? If twenty people read it? How about 75? Two hundred?  It doesn’t ever really feel like enough of an impact.

I want to open minds, to heal hearts, to alter the way in which people the world. To give them hope and inspire their dreams. And… more than this, I’m afraid to admit I want to be recognized for that — publicly acclaimed and praised. I want the lead.

But I am such a small actor.

Small because, like an ensemble member who wishes she were in the spotlight, I often struggle to express gratitude for this chapter in my life, for the time it takes to get where I’m going. 

And small because, as a single human being, I am an infinitesimal component of creation, and anything I do — now or ever, no matter how grandiose or awe-inspiring — will always pale in relation to the majesty of God and the scale of the universe.  

But it is that same enormous, incomprehensible universe that reminds me that change comes slowly. It does not always come in a roar, or a gust of wind made to knock you off your feet or spin the world the other way around. More often it’s a whisper, a breeze, so subtle you might miss it. Years of erosion combined to create towering rock structures and deep canyons. Underwater volcanic eruptions that create streams of islands. Ripples, not waves, that stretch across the entire surface of a lake. 

Yes, my actions are small. But I take solace in knowing that they are contributing to something greater than myself, to the great production of humankind, and in knowing that the play would be something less without me in it.

I invite you today to be small with me. To realize that the piece of work you’ve been given to do on this planet is just as important as anyone else’s. To know that you have a part to play. And to let the bigness of God’s purpose work in your heart, to envelop your small acts and transform them, into something astonishing, groundbreaking, world-changing, full of grace and love and light.

There are no small parts.

Photo Credit: mikilgenio80 via Compfight cc

About That Whole "Free Will" Thing...

Sunday, July 3, 2016

“Catholicism is not Master and Servant — it is Father asking children to rise to their best selves, to accept responsibility, to use their holy tools to create what can be… All is not ordained — from the tools we have been given, the incredible one-in-ten-billion-years tools each of us is given — we are asked to help create. We are asked to be Artists! What a gift! What a joy! What an astonishing and terrifying assignment!”
Brian Doyle, Grace Notes

Why did God give us free will? God, omnipotent entity and ruler of Heaven and Earth, could easily have designed this world and the people within it according to his very exact standards of perfection. Utopia could totally have been a thing if He’d wanted it to be.

So why didn’t He?

Most priests I’ve met and those I’ve discussed theology with have agreed it’s because God loves us. And they sort of just end it there, more or less. Like parents who won’t be able to control their children forever, 24/7, but trust they’ll live according to the guidance they’ve provided in those critical first years of life, God likely hopes that as we walk through life, we’ll adhere to the principles of love, compassion, and mercy cultivated by faith, without His constant hovering. He loves us enough to let us go, so to speak.

But it is so, so easy to consider the ever-unfolding tragedies in the world and think, “It would be so much easier if we were all just good all the time.” And yes. It would probably be easier. But it would also be relatively meaningless, because we would be reduced to little more than actors merely reciting scripted lines, unable to give our input and use our own sense of creativity to shape the scenes.

I think God gave us free will because He knows the enormous amount of goodness and light that can burst forth from the human soul instead. Always. Everywhere. In spite of the darkness, the evil, the fear. And God knows that such beauty of the human spirit is far more radiant and glorious when it comes of our own volition, when we don’t have to share it, when we aren’t told or commanded or blackmailed to give of our hearts, but choose to do so anyway.

God is not simply our Master, nor we, his sycophantic Servants. And all, indeed, as Brian Doyle points out above, “is not ordained.” God loves us too much for that. The love God has given us is the kind that invites us, dares us even, to pick up a paintbrush, a pen, an instrument, and create with Him. It is the kind of love that knows that our love is best expressed freely through our unique sets of gifts, our "incredible one-in-ten-billion-years tools," with a healthy helping of creativity and compassion on the side. It is the kind of love that understands that we love each in massively different ways, and it gives us permission to do so, in order that the world might brim with the fullness of human gifts, serving each other’s weaknesses, complementing one another’s strengths, building it up to the fullness of “what can be.” 

Photo Credit: A Train via Compfight cc