The pursuit of greatness or success is a trend that has grown over decades and is woven into every culture, nation, business, and organization. The variable is how it is measured but the goal is nearly the same. Often it is measured by wealth, fame, and being at the top of the field you are in. It can be measured by the floor your office is on in the building and whether it is on a corner with great window views, the neighborhood you live in, the size of your portfolio, the titles you have earned, the degrees hanging on your wall – a list too long to include.
Being the best and winning is the target and is often pursued at all costs. We applaud gold medal winners, and we should, but should we not applaud anyone with the courage to compete? We congratulate the promotion and the title, but does that define the person’s character?
Success is not the enemy but our motives for pursuing it might be. Does success mean that average is not valuable? Does finishing the race not count if we don’t come in first?
Is the man or woman who created the statue of a hero less than the person the statue honors?
Is the tender of the grapes less gifted or valuable than the vintner who makes the wine?
Is the farmer who tends the crops and harvests them mean less than the chef who creates menus at 5-star restaurants?
Is the person who builds the sets for the stage production and never seen by the audience less significant than the performers taking curtain calls?
Is the aide at the hospital who scrubs and cleans all the messes of less importance than the acclaimed surgeon who walks the halls?
Is the child who struggles to read less relevant even though he can create musical compositions that astound audiences?
You might say the answers are obvious, but does how we live, who we admire, and what we seek out demonstrate that? The question can be troublesome because our choices and decisions showing what we would deny can creep in. We wait in line for the blockbuster movie, pay prices too high for the most popular concert ticket, want the person with the most outstanding reputation to handle whatever area we need for service of some sort.
To get to that greatness or success we also want the shortest path that doesn’t cut into our time to kick back and relax and enjoy all the good things we hope to achieve.
Most of us have heard references to “the greatest generation”. Do we know who they were and why they were given that prestigious title?
This group were the Americans who were born between 1900 and 1920. They lived through The Great Depression, and many fought in WW II. Those born earliest survived the Spanish Flu epidemic/pandemic of 1918. Their children became the Baby Boomers of today. They were the era of my father and mother along with so many most of us know or can recall.
The bulk of them never went to college and many did not get to finish high school. They worked long hours at hard jobs with few (if any benefits). Vacations were largely unheard of and time off might mean a few hours sitting with neighbors over a glass of lemonade at the end of a long week. They walked more often than they rode to wherever they needed to go. The way they got their news was through the local newspapers that were more news and less opinion. If they had electricity, the radio provided some additional news and sometimes entertainment. They believed hard work was what adult life included and they expected their children to learn to work hard as well despite wanting a better education and life for them. Church and the local school were places where people came together and supported one another with whatever life was handing them. They were no strangers to sacrifice on a daily basis and didn’t shun their responsibility to do so when it was needed. They had lived through poverty and cherished freedom and were willing to lay down their lives to assure freedom would be maintained for them and others who were being denied that same freedom.
The challenges that life dealt them turned them into the “can do” folks that brought about the most profound economic and technological transformation in human history and looked at those things as duty for the privilege of serving and enjoying freedom.
There is little doubt they defined life differently than most of us do today. It’s hard to say that greatness or success were actual goals they verbalized. Their values and principles were of a deeper kind.
As we look at the challenges we face now, what might they tell us and how might they see us and the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren they worked so hard to provide freedom, education, and a decent life for?
Have we forgotten what makes greatness?
The motives of James and John and their mother got exposed when she asked Jesus to give her sons the places of honor on either side of Him. What would that signify to her or them? Would it make them feel as if they were better than the others who were disciples or followers?
Many of us know how He responded to this request.
“But this is not your calling. You will lead by a completely different model. The greatest one among you will live as the one who is called to serve others,”Matthew 20:26 (TPT)
Many of “the greatest generation” seemed to live by that model. It was unlikely they found their jobs (that were often menial) as what defined them or that they shouldn’t have to work that hard or long to get just enough to manage basic needs. That model resulted in greatness and the freedom and privileges many of us have access to today.
They might tell us our idea of greatness is upside down. They didn’t seek to achieve greatness but as they worked hard and sacrificed much it developed character in them and brought them the greatness most of them didn’t expect to get accolades for and can feel embarrassed about if such is given.