Redefining Greatness

When I was ten years old I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was going to be a Disney animator. I drew all the time, I loved it, and there was no doubt in my mind that I would draw forever. Well, obviously that didn’t exactly pan out. I’m not quite sure when I realized art was not going to be my career path. Maybe it was during a tour of the animation studio at MGM in Disney World, when I learned that animating meant drawing slight variations of the same thing over. And over. And over.

The Trade

That certainly didn’t excite me and I remember eventually thinking: “If I’m going to be a professional artist, I’m going to have to start working really hard at this.” As soon as I’d had that thought, a second one followed immediately: “I draw for fun – I don’t think I want to do this if it’s going to be work.” And that was it. Dream over.

“If I’m going to succeed, I’m going to have to make sacrifices and work really hard.”

Honestly, I have no regrets about that. When I looked at my art, that felt like trading one thing (pleasure) for another (drudgery) and it wasn’t a trade I was interested in making. So, I didn’t. I realized what everyone realizes at some point: If I’m going to succeed, I’m going to have to make sacrifices and work really hard.

The Sacrifice

In our world I think this is what separates, not just the good from the great, but the great from the greatest. What are you willing to sacrifice to achieve your goals? The thing about a sacrifice is, once it’s on the altar, there’s no going back. You can’t un-sacrifice something. We can devote every waking hour to our goals, but time is never the only cost. Rest, friends, family. We’re familiar with those sacrifices and we even convince ourselves that they are unavoidable. But there are sacrifices I don’t think most people are aware of.

I know a few pastors who minister to some of the most famous people in the world. They spend time with these men and women who have become rich and among the greatest to ever do what they do. These athletes and pop stars are constantly surrounded by people who want to be their friends. They are never alone. And yet they are some of the most alone people on the planet. Why? Because all of those people around them WANT something.

The Emptiness

Can you imagine, feeling like you can never be sure whether the people in your life love you, or whether they just want something from you? And so, these men and women, the greatest in their profession, crave time with these pastors because they are some of the only people in their lives who don’t want anything from them.

Ecclesiastes 4:8 paints a rather dreary picture of this: “There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother. There was no end to his toil, yet his eyes were not content with his wealth.” This man had achieved greatness, he had everything he could need or want—but he was alone. But rather than try to fill the emptiness, he decided to become even greater. In Mark 8:36, Jesus asks “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Our reply is too often, “There’s only one way to find out.”

The Definition of Greatness

Here’s the root of our problem: We have the wrong definition of “greatness.” Jesus was a master at subverting the culture around him and forcing people to question what they took for granted. In Luke 9:48 he says something that our culture desperately needs to hear: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Jesus said this with a child on his knee. A child who hadn’t accomplished anything, who hadn’t put in countless hours to master their craft.

“We have the wrong definition of “greatness.”

Maybe greatness isn’t what we think it is. Maybe in all of our urgency and late hours at the office (or at home, faces lit by the glow of a screen) we are missing the entire point. I still struggle with my own desire for greatness and my fear (always just beneath the surface) that in the end, I will leave this world having achieved nothing. But then again, I spent this morning laying on the floor (very undignified) with my boys, playing with trains. And that felt pretty… great.