Everywhere I look – on social media, television commercials, slogans printed on T-shirts and pasted on signs – the prevailing message today seems to be about achieving greatness, thinking big, striving for the maximum measure of success.

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great,” I read on a social media post this week.

“We should be bigger than Amazon, bigger than Starbucks,” on another, promoting church growth.

And we’ve all heard how we should “Make America Great Again.”

But if everyone is determined to be on top, who is on bottom? If everyone is determined to make their lives the best, whose are getting worse?

“Maybe God isn’t interested so much in greatness as in goodness,” I said to myself, thinking aloud. “Or in greatness as in faithfulness.”


Granted, there is a kind of greatness that is also good. The multi-millionaire CEO who elevates others through generosity. The Olympian who uses their platform to inspire. The influencer who promotes social justice. But perhaps, such actions sprout from the desire to do good, not the desire to be great.

In church a couple of weeks ago, our pastor shared a sermon based on road signs she’d encountered on a cross-country trip, messages such as ‘Stop,’ ‘Yield,’ and ‘Detour.’ “If God gave you a road sign, what would it be?” she asked, ending her sermon.

“Expect Delays,” I joked to my husband, sitting next to me, as I thought of how long most of our projects take, like working on our house. Then in my mind flashed a picture of a sign, like those posted along highways to mark a low overpass, and a whisper spoke to my heart, “Height Restriction.” In other words, stay humble, serve.

One of the people I admire most is Patricia St. John. “Who?” a writer friend asked last week when I mentioned her name. St. John was a prolific Christian writer of children’s fiction in the mid-1900s, but she was also a nurse and missionary who lived a life of service. Rather than seeking acclaim, she sought to improve the lives of those around her, like those of the abandoned children living on the streets of Morocco who she taught and cared for.

As a writer, I find myself constantly in conflict between wanting to be great and wanting something so much richer and deeper and more enduring – to be present, to be honest, to be humble while living a life that lifts up others.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus’s closest friends were arguing about who would have seats of honor in heaven. They had it all wrong, Jesus reprimanded them, “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest” (Matthew 20:26, GNT). Which makes me wonder whether we have it all wrong too.

Perhaps true greatness is not measured by how high we rise but by how low we are willing to stoop. Not by what we accomplish, but by what we help others accomplish – the impact our work and words leave on others.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir “Redeeming Ruth,” writes from a little house in the big woods of Midcoast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book “The Best Birthday” and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at meadowrue.com.

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