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I graduated college magna cum laude, which is Latin for “with great honor” or “with great praise.” I walked across the stage to receive my honors diploma with the pride of one who had turned people toward Jesus during college while still earning good grades. I’d graduated with greatness, or so I thought. I craved greatness.
How We Define Greatness vs. How God Defines Greatness
I vaguely understood that greatness had something to do with internal growth as well as outward accomplishments, but most of what I considered “growth” could be measured and documented: lives changed, movements started, goals met. If it mattered, I measured it. If I couldn’t measure it, it didn’t matter.
At the time, I didn’t know I could also be great at two o’clock in the morning holding a sick baby or in graciously stepping away from a leadership position at church so someone else could take the limelight. I didn’t know that greatness could be had in a years-long journey of fielding the pain of a former orphan or in quietly serving a friend who would never thank me. I didn’t know that I might find greatness in leaving my task list unfinished so I could read to a child in my lap. I didn’t know at twenty-one with my diploma in hand that I could be great in the dormant seasons, or what I would have then considered “unsuccessful” seasons. I didn’t know that even my very desire for greatness was something that came from God.
Jesus acknowledged this human craving for greatness in the verse I memorized one summer as a work crew volunteer at a camp in the Adirondacks: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (Matthew 20:26-27 ESV).
The Path to Greatness Lies in Hiddenness
For years, I assumed this invitation to service—and thereby greatness—was about things like bringing a meal to a sick friend, volunteering in the nursery at church, or stapling information packets for soccer practice. But the kind of greatness Jesus describes requires more than a slight strain on the pocketbook or the occasional sacrifice of time. He was stating in no uncertain terms that the path to greatness lies in hiddenness. And it’s a state of mind and a way of being, not a series of tasks to perform and check off a list.
We become great when we genuinely, happily serve in unacknowledged ways and places because that is where we find the sustaining face of God—especially when no one else sees us or applauds. Hearts that grow in God, that reach for Him and receive Him reaching back, become profoundly great. Unshakable, even.
It’s in the Interruptions, Disappointments and Waiting Seasons that We Grow in Greatness
At such times, our biggest mistake is to call our hiddenness accidental. You’ve probably heard statements like these: “If I could just get out of this transition and into a role where I’m using my gifts…” or “When the kids get a bit older and I can leave the house more…” or “When he’s not sick anymore, I’ll really be able to give my life away for God’s kingdom,” or [insert yours here]. We forget that it’s in the interruptions, the waiting seasons, the disappointments, that we grow best.
It is precisely in those times when we are “sidetracked” by a disheartening job, an unshared bed, or a leader who doesn’t acknowledge our gifting that God whispers: This is where you become great—on the inside.
God has created each of us for greatness. Not the greatness of a stage or a title or a degree, though He may use those things in our lives. He may even let the applause of others encourage us and help us grow. But the sweetest greatness starts with being rooted, being made and nurtured in secret, being seen by God alone.
Sara Hagerty is wife to her best friend Nate, and a mother of six, including four children adopted from Africa and two through natural childbirth. Sara writes regularly about life’s delays, finding God in the unlikely, motherhood, marriage, and adoption in her two books, Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed (August 2017) and Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet (2014) and at www.SaraHagerty.netTwitter: @sarahagerty, and Instagram: @SaraHagertyWrites
Adapted from Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to Be Noticed Copyright © 2017 by Sara Hagarty. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.Zondervan.com. All rights reserved.
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