I was reading a letter from Thomas Merton to a friend of his who needed some encouragement. A single phrase stood out to me. Merton mentioned, “… the significance of one’s apparent uselessness…”
There are three important words in Merton’s statement: significance, apparent, and uselessness. I remember an old Bible college professor of mine, Jim Crain, who said to me: “We must learn to embrace our apparent insignificance.” That statement has stuck with me to this day, and reminds me of what Merton said.
Accepting my apparent uselessness and insignificance is very significant. My usefulness and significance in the world is comparable to that of a minnow in the ocean. Without the minnow the ocean would be less than it is but the loss of the minnow basically insignificant. But that minnow does fill a space, serve a minuscule purpose, is part of a food-chain, part of God’s creation and nothing created by God lacks value.
What significance is there to one’s apparent uselessness? Accepting my apparent uselessness frees me from the heavy burden of needing to do something significant and therefore be significant in the eyes of others. We strive to produce, get results, accomplish something important, and this drive can be fueled by many things, some noble, and others apparently noble, but not. But even the most noble are a burden that is weighty and weighty always wears you down… eventually.
If I can somehow not take my “noble work” too seriously, not take myself too seriously, embrace the significance of my own apparent uselessness, then I will live under an inner freedom of joy and peace and ultimately be more useful to God and my fellow man.