“I want to be the best piano teacher in all of Potsdale,” she said. Carla was 36, mother of two girls, and pastor’s wife in a church of several hundred. She was never going to be the best musician: she didn’t have the talent for it.
How surprising, I thought. Why would you want to be the best at that? And what would it cost you? I was a piano teacher in the same area, and had been since I was 13. Carla was a few years younger than I, and her driving ambition to exceed others, to compete with me and my betters, astonished me. I was a more natural pianist, and my students enjoyed coming for lessons. But there were two outstanding teachers in town to whom I sent my outstanding youngsters, and whose students won the competitions and got scholarships. Had I wanted to be “the best teacher?” Ever? I think not.
There were even times when God set me aside on the shelf, for a year, for another year, and then for years. At a recent women’s conference, the topic was those “hidden years,” when no one knows our talents, no one cares that we are well-trained for this or that, and we do no work in the area that defined us previously. The speaker said this was time that shakes us loose from our limited self-definitions. “Hidden years” train us to look on the praise of God for our obedience and love for him, rather than on the approval of people for what we do.
When Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth, we are a grain of salt among many, seasoning interactions in the greater community, affecting people with our kind words and manners, politics with our votes, the homeless with our volunteer hours. When I taste my oatmeal, I don’t want to encounter a lump of salt. I want the subtle flavor enhancing my porridge.
When he calls us to be light, we are not always the city on a hill – some of us are a streetlight in the city that is the Church shining into the world, and it is always his light that shines through us. Our responsibility is to be what he’s designed for the day and the hour. If that’s enough for God, perhaps that should be good enough for us, too. Even if someone else looks better, does more outstanding work, and is “the best” at what we do.
And when we pursue the best "us" as God has designed us - in our place, with our opportunities, with our best efforts - the pressure is off. And God's approval is best of all.
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him, tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in HIS holy name: let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:1-4 NIV
And this is his commandment: We must believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded us. Those who obey God's commandments remain in fellowship with him, and he with them. And we know he lives in us because the Spirit he gave us lives in us. John 3:23–24 NEV