You’re a Piece of Grass
There is an official record of 58,220 U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War.1 I remember the first time that I visited the memorial in D.C. In order to find a specific name on the wall you must consult a memorial book located nearby. The names are listed alphabetically in the book along with their location on the wall. As I flipped through the book, I looked for my last name. It seemed to be a subconscious attempt to connect in some way with someone out of that staggering list. At least that is what I tell myself. It might have just been narcissism. But, as I turned the pages, the finiteness of my life weighed on me. I once did not exist. One day I will only be a memory. Eventually, I will never be thought of again. My insignificance, at least for a few moments, was tangible.
That doesn’t feel good. To matter and to be known feels good. But, like the billions of people before you and likely after you, your significance is short lived. In the Bible, we can find two extremes so to speak on this topic. At one end we have Psalm 139. It is a description of the intimate level at which God knows us. “You created my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb…” stuff like that. Warm, fuzzy and a bit much for the cynics among us. Then there is 1 Peter 1:21 that says ““All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall…” The sentiment in one of those two passages will sell books in the Christian bookstore. The other, not so much.
And then there is Paul’s speech to the Athenians. As he describes God, the true God that they are yet to know, he makes this statement:
From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Act 17:26-28
Is there truly that much intention and purpose to our lives? For those of us who have been stopped too often at the reality checks on the road life, it is hard to believe. Most of the time, significance is harder to find than that Lego piece your son lost only to realize it was already attached to the structure (yep, that happened). And, when we encounter moments in which we feel significant, we are extremely suspect of them. We usually feel more like a piece of grass.
But, what if it is true that there is this deep level of significance and purpose to all of us?
The design is far too vast for you to take it in all at once. From your limited perspective, you will never see it all. You cannot see the whole ocean from your position on the beach. And this leaves plenty of room for doubt. Yet, wherever there is room for doubt, there is room for faith. Faith that there is, even if it is imperceptible, significance to your life now. The intersection of you, this time and this place has purpose. However, you need to stop trying to understand it or put it into words, because you will never be able to, again, take in this vast design all at once and grasp the importance of your place in it.
Because this is about so much more than you. This is not about your fuzzy feeling of significance. I am not writing this so that you can feel good about yourself. I am writing this to remind you that you have been given a role in the design and refusing that role leaves a void – a gravely, unfortunate void. It is a void that you can never fully understand and trying to measure it is not only an exercise in futility, but selfishly detrimental.
Measurement is comparison. Comparison erodes. It erodes this faith in our God-designed significance. Comparison paralyzes. It is a self-inflicted wound whose shrapnel sprays those closest to you. And honestly, we usually compare ourselves to our incomplete perceptions of others. We never know the whole story. With that, this comparison sometimes leads us to find solace in the downfall of others. When those who are grossly idolized fall, it makes us, in a twisted way, feel better. We do not realize how it weakens us all for we fail to grasp the complexity of all of our connectedness.
On the other side is selfish ambition. Selfish ambition is a weapon. It is a wound that we inflict on others when we seek to first and foremost create or protect our own significance. The selfishly ambitious become the low-quality graffiti defacing the grand architecture. A life of manufactured self-significance becomes the weak spot in the greater plan designed to hold all of this together.
The writer expresses nothing without the reader and the speaker is unheard without the listener. We are all writers and speakers and we are all readers and listeners. Everyday. You are but a blade of grass in an endless field. Yet, you occupy a certain space for a certain amount of time for a reason. Live there, for significance is bigger than you, but it includes you.