Leaving something behind

August 1st, 2017

“I’m trying to leave something behind.”

This hook from Sean Rowe’s song “To Leave Something Behind” has lodged itself in my heart and in my theological imagination lately. These words crystallize a yearning that shapes my life, at least on my best days.

Wanting to leave something behind contrasts sharply with wanting to make a name for myself. I’m not interested in slapping my name on buildings or hats or t-shirts. Creating a stir with my tweets and making headlines do not inspire me.

Chasing greatness strikes me as a fool’s game. Don’t believe me? Read the story of the Tower of Babel. A telling biblical hook captures the ill-fated builders’ motivation: “Let us make a name for ourselves.” (Genesis 11:4b) Their pursuit of greatness collapsed into anarchy, estrangement, and conflict. And so do all such pursuits.

Leaving something behind isn’t about me. On the contrary, it’s about devoting myself to something larger than myself. A common good. A world that will nurture and sustain others, including and especially those who come after me.

Leaving something behind doesn’t mean making a better place for myself in the world. It means making the world a better place for everybody.

To put this in Christian terms, Sean Rowe’s simple hook has me thinking about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed or like yeast. A tiny mustard seed can yield a tree. A pinch of yeast can turn a heap of flour into a loaf.

To wind up with a tree somebody has to plant the seed. There won’t be a loaf if someone doesn’t prepare the dough. Somebody has not only to dream about what might be, but must also commit themselves to it.

The Kingdom, in other words, is like a pearl of great price. Someone found it in a field and sold everything to buy that field. That person was all in. Utterly committed.

Now here’s the thing about the value of a pearl. There is no guarantee that others will value it as much as you do. Like any investment, it’s a risk.

The seed, the yeast, and the pearl teach us a lesson about possibilities. Not inevitabilities. Things may not turn out the way we want. But Jesus tells us to plant. To knead. To invest. Devoting ourselves to the Kingdom—trying to leave something behind—isn’t the same thing as betting on a sure thing. It’s an act of trust.

Trying to leave something behind is also an exercise in letting go of control. I’m not a bread baker. But I do know this much: at a certain point you have to leave the dough alone. If you mess with it, you’ll ruin it.

Devoting ourselves to the Kingdom has nothing to do with sitting on our hands and waiting for God to do all the work.

And yet, Jesus teaches us to do the good that we can do and to trust that God is working through other vessels in ways that we probably will not perceive.

I dream that people will inhabit a world where every person’s work provides a life filled with dignity. I dream that the elderly and the handicapped will have the support and care that every human being richly deserves. I dream of a world where quality healthcare is available to everyone.

I dream of a world where we value people more than profits and social rank and possessions.

We don’t live in that world right now. But it’s the world I want to leave behind.

This article originally appeared on the author's blog. Reprinted with permission.

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