I overheard the question come from a stranger who’d approached the other end of the table I shared at a restaurant with a small army of fellow moms.
We were all clad in matching t-shirts, and originally the stranger had approached to inquire about what the t-shirts meant. Someone responded with something along the lines of, “We’re a group of moms who get together regularly to encourage one another.” And that’s when the question slipped out.
“So, do you like, do anything, uh… purposeful?”
A laugh escaped from me without warning, and I clapped my hand over my mouth. As far as I could tell, the question wasn’t delivered from a place of rudeness. It was just… honest. I couldn’t help but find it funny, because it’s the same question I ask myself sometimes when I’m scrubbing chocolate milk stains out of the carpet, navigating a public tantrum, or shaking sand out of tiny sneakers.
Apparently, being a mom who encourages other moms didn’t fall into this particular person’s category of purposeful. We got lucky though, because we’d just come from pulling off a large community event which was easier to define as “purposeful”. So we shared a little about the event, and this seemed to satisfy the inquisitive stranger, who walked away nodding in affirmation.
A few days later, I was walking through the grocery store. More accurately, I was running through the grocery store, chasing two kids who were overflowing with excitement about life in general, the way kids often do. We came upon a pregnant mother who was bent down picking yogurt-covered raisins off the floor while her toddler munched happily in the shopping cart.
She could’ve easily left the mess for someone else to pick up, someone who would get paid to do it. But she took it upon herself to bend down and pick up every last one of the scattered raisins. In the most mundane moment, this mother showed the character of Jesus to her child, by willingly (and literally) lowering herself and serving.
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45 (ESV)
We went over to help gather the raisins, and I recognized her from the group of women who gather to encourage one another. My kids fell to the floor with a collective thump, eager to participate in this raisin-gathering game. She let them help, and in doing so, she gave them the opportunity to reflect the same character of Jesus she was modeling for her kid, my kids, and anyone else who might be observing the situation. My kids beamed, thrilled to help clean up a mess for once instead of make it.
“I bet you find these raisins in your washing machine a lot, huh?” I asked her as we finished the job and stood up.
“My pockets are full of them,” she said.
“Been there.” I dropped a handful of raisins into my own pocket. “For solidarity,” I explained.
We said our goodbyes, and later that night I had the very rare mental presence to remove the yogurt-covered raisins from my pocket before throwing my pants in the hamper. (Win!)
It’s not just a question for moms. It’s a question for anyone. We all ask ourselves this at times when we’re in the grind. We ask ourselves this on the days which seem so very uneventful, and we find ourselves wondering…
Is this going anywhere?
Where’s the payoff?
Am I doing anything purposeful?
Being faithful day-in and day-out right where God has you doesn’t always seem very exciting. It doesn’t always seem very purposeful. Not by the world’s standards, anyway.
But what if those days, when we are unseen and unsure of where it’s all going, are the most purposeful? I’d say they are, if we’re submitted to serving and pleasing God in the small (no matter how small) moments. I’d say these small moments could add up to something very big, indeed.
I’m reading a gem of a book by Jay Pathan and Dave Runyon. Here’s what they have to say about this topic:
“In our culture, we have a fascination with celebrities and talent. We are riveted by movies about extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, because we want to be inspired and wowed by the lives of others. So imagine watching a movie about a man who goes to work every day, has dinner with his family five nights a week, and reads books to his kids before they go to bed at night. He also is a great neighbor… Imagine in scene after scene of this film, we watch a man who is consistently faithful… This would be a terribly boring movie. No one would pay to see it. The movies we watch tell us a lot about what we value in our culture. We don’t value consistency. On the whole, we are convinced that we need to make a big splash to make a difference… This simple truth can change everything: small things matter. They really do… We all wish we were a bit more of something – smarter, funnier, or wealthier. Often we have a hard time recognizing what we do have to offer… It may not seem that we have much, but when we give from what we have, something sacred happens. God uses the small things that we bring to him and multiplies them into a miracle.”
In the past month, I keep stumbling across the Scriptures which describe Jesus feeding 5,000 – making a miracle out of five loaves of bread and two fish from a single boy’s lunch. I’m hearing about this event in church, having conversations about it in life, coming across it in various books I’m reading. Over and over again, it seems I can’t escape these Scriptures.
I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I wonder if the boy, who simply showed up and gave his lunch to Jesus that day, had any idea we’d be talking about it, studying it, writing about it, and reading about it more than two thousand years later. I wonder if he ever dreamed that his meager lunch would become an epic miracle.
And I wonder what this boy would’ve said, after watching Jesus create a miracle of abundance out of his small offering. I wonder how he would’ve answered the question, “Did you do anything purposeful today?”
The Scriptures don’t say, but I like to think the boy would’ve shrugged, pointed to Jesus, and said, “No. I didn’t do anything purposeful at all. But He sure did.”
Because I’m finding so much freedom these days in realizing it’s not my job to manufacture purpose. It’s not my job to garner anyone’s approval or applause. My job is to show up and offer what little I have to Jesus, again and again.
I hope I get another chance to answer the question someday, “So, do you like, do anything, uh… purposeful?”
If I do, I hope I won’t be so quick to burst into laughter. And I hope I’ll resist the urge to respond in a way that elevates myself as purposeful. I hope I’ll be confident in saying, “No. But I show up and give everything I have to the One who does.”
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. – Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)