Core Decorum: greatness

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Illustration courtesy of Cecilia Lang.

Throughout one’s childhood in modern America, there is one thing that most children are sure to have heard in one form or another: “You’re meant for great things. You can do anything that you dream of doing.”

For many reasons, that can be a wonderful thing for a wide-eyed child to hear.

In our Disneyfied world, where every story has a happy ending and every lost child has a home just waiting for them, nothing can seem more true than that statement. Just remember the joy that you felt as a child when you felt like you could do anything! 

Who wouldn’t want to believe that there is a path for them that ends in achieving greatness? 

However, for many other reasons, that statement can be the most terrifying thing in the world, because it seems to many to be untrue.

After all, everyone knows someone who had their dreams crushed, due to no fault of their own, and feels like there is no place where they can actually be at peace. 

All of us can remember a moment where the sting of failure marred us. For some, it was receiving a rejection letter for a college or a job we applied to. For others, perhaps it wasn’t receiving a lead role in a play or failing to earn a needed grade for a scholarship.

Failure to achieve our dreams reasonably challenges the Disney mantra that anyone can do anything that they put their mind and heart behind. 

Understanding and accepting why those statements could be both terrifying and encouraging is essential to grasp what they actually mean. 

“You are meant for greatness.” Huh. How odd. 

If you go around and ask people if they believe that they have achieved greatness, and if they had any semblance of humility in their character, they’ll probably give you a weird look and walk away.

No one really knows what greatness is when asked. Is it monetary success? Is it political power? Is it persuasive ability? Is it the most amazing mocha brownie ever made? 

All of those things could be described as “being great,” but they all seem to fall short of the “greatness” that we all envisioned for ourselves so long ago. 

As followers of Christ, we accept that we live in a fallen, imperfect world that is strewn with darkness and evil. We believe that we are to be lights shining in the darkness, never succumbing to it, and overpowering it through, and with, Christ. 

I would posit that it is this “shining in the darkness” that defines greatness. 

When one steps out of their comfort zone to right a wrong, to make clear that which was obscured, to help one in need of assistance or to help others see something beautiful that was out of sight, they are burning brightly in the darkness, slowly working to expel it. 

These acts can be large or small, but they all equally participate in greatness. 

It is hard to find a wiser character in fiction than Gandalf the Grey when he says, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

We are all called to greatness, and we can certainly achieve any great dream that we have. There is nothing in that statement that is untrue. 

However, the type of greatness that we are called to is not greatness of the world, but the greatness of the spirit. Our dreams for greatness must reflect this in order for them to come true.  

You might not be able to become the CEO of Google in your lifetime or become the president of the United States, but you can be one who shines in the darkness. 

You have the ability to be great in whatever setting life takes you to. 

If you are one who lives life always trying to commit small acts of kindness and love, greatness will undoubtedly follow and define your life. 

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