Saturday, February 26, 2011

Small, But Valuable

Those words, "small, but valuable" jumped out at me from the movie screen several years ago. In the film, "You've Got Mail" Meg Ryan's character, Kathleen Kelly, is writing to her unknown "cyber-friend" played by Tom Hanks. She says, "I lead a small life. Small, but valuable...." The rest of her words haven't stuck with me, but those have.
I have never heard anyone describe their life in those terms, "small, but valuable". What a great way to describe my life and yours. Most of us aren't on public platforms. We don't reach a wide audience or influence large numbers of people. We just go about our lives. We touch the people we come in contact with and influence them unknowingly. In a culture where bigger is often deemed better it is easy to think that a small life doesn't carry much weight, that it doesn't have value.
Years ago pretty much everyone had a small life. Very few people imagined that life could be "bigger". There were few platforms to push a person's influence beyond the walls of their small community.  Now mass communication allows for a lot more comparison with those who have a wider circle of influence. Does a wider circle of influence make a person more valuable?
I guess those words jumped out at me because my life was small (I guess it still is) and, I thought, not worth as much as someone else whose life was "bigger". Who am I comparing myself to anyway? What makes their life more important? Isn't what I am able to give to those around me just as valuable?
What you and I have to give to those whose lives we touch everyday is worth much more to them than anything they hear or see in any form of mass communication. What makes a small life valuable is the personal touch, the things that only a real, live, right-there person can give. You and I are real, live and right-there to the person whose face we see next. Give every bit that your small life has to offer. It will be of greater worth than you will ever know.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Deep Impact

I have been thinking lately about how our culture has come to believe that the more people know about you or your activity the better it is. Mega churches and huge stadiums are a creation of our time. Before the invention of technologies like radio and television or the internet, even those whose names were well know could live in relative anonymity. These days we often measure our success in how many come to our events or access our materials rather than how deeply our message impacts a few.
I propose a change in our philosophy concerning impact. I have been thinking of it as the “Jerry Maguire” model of ministry. In the movie “Jerry Maguire” the lead character played by Tom Cruise is a successful sports agent. The definition of success in that context is representing star players with big contracts and high commissions for the agent. More clients, more money. Jerry has an epiphany of sorts and proposes a change in the agency’s approach: Fewer clients, deeper relationship and personal investment in each one. This proposed philosophy change gets Jerry fired and leaves him with one client, Rod, so he is forced into actually implementing this change. Over time Jerry and Rod develop a relationship that deeply impacts them both. Jerry has the pleasure of seeing Rod succeed in a way that he never would have without the personal attention and investment of Jerry Maguire and Jerry learns through Rod’s example how to have real relationships.
Is more really better? Each one of us desires to make an impact on the world, but is that impact to be measured by the number of people we impact or the depth of the impact we have on a few lives? A deeper impact potentially affects just as many people in the long run. Those few that I impact have their own circle of influence. As they invest in a few in their circle, my impact widens. When those they influence invest in their circle, my impact widens again and remains a deeper impact because of each tier of influence receiving a focused investment.
I have often felt insignificant. Maybe you have as well. I have measured myself against the idea of a wider influence. I have often felt trapped into spending my life on a few. Opportunities to reach wider haven’t been available or even satisfying when they exist. I have come to see that those I am able to influence are actually those I need to focus on. As I have learned to invest more deeply in those who are currently in my circle of influence, I have found the results to be deeply satisfying.  
Often we are reaching for the wider influence and miss the opportunity to make a deeper, more lasting and far-reaching impact.  Deeper impact costs more on my part because deeper invests more of me. There may be more chance for hurt or conflict or frustration when I don’t see the kind of results I am looking for. Yet, deeper investment in another can affect me more significantly as well. I am transformed as I invest in the lives of a few and watch them grow and succeed.  I suppose there is value in both wide and deep impact, but I would rather spend my life deeply investing in a few and sharing in their growth and success in life than reaching wide and having a shallow impact on many people.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Time and Priorities

I have been thinking lately about how quickly time flies and how often I don’t seem able to do the things I really want to do. The question is then: What are my priorities? What I choose to do or not do is the truest indication of my priorities. How I spend my time is the best gauge of what is important to me. So, what is important to me?
I guess based on my choices, what I really want to do isn’t as important to me as what I feel I should do. I should do the laundry, make the dinner, pay the bills. I want to write more frequently, read good books, spend more one-on-one time with friends and family.  So, it seems most often the “shoulds” win the battle for my time and energy. But are they really the most important activities? If I let those activities slide and do what I want to do will I feel more like I am accomplishing something valuable and important? Or will I feel guilty as I watch the mundane responsibilities, the necessary stuff, snowball into a mound of unfinished work?
I suppose the trick is to do a better job of finding the balance between the “want-tos” and the “have-tos”. They will both always be calling for my attention. If I don’t do the necessary tasks of life I end up with a big mess in my house and personal affairs. Neglect in that area is noticeable to anyone. If I don’t do the other things there is still a mess of sorts, but it’s on the inside of me and no one else knows about it.
There will always be business to keep in order, necessary tasks calling for my attention. Yet, there is another call as well. Perhaps it’s even a higher call: the call to feed the soul, to explore and fulfill the purpose for which I was created. I am not just referring to a need for rest, although rest is important. Feeding the soul is about nurturing those inner spaces. Spaces that require beauty and inspiration. Spaces that say, “This is what I was made for.” Spaces that aren’t satisfied by the completion of tasks, so much as the exploration of creativity and ideas.  Spaces that are only satisfied in the intangible and spiritual realms. 
We were each created with a need to feed the soul. How we satisfy the soul is as unique as our fingerprint. As time ticks by I want to choose to keep the inner spaces just as much a priority as the outer spaces of my life. How I spend my time will tell the story of my choices.