It’s Okay to Be Unremarkable

Heather Holleman
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When I think about Ephesians 2:10 and how it says I’m created in Christ Jesus “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for [me] to do” and how the good work that Jesus began in me will be carried out to completion (Philippians 1:6), I finally relax into my seat in the heavenly realms. God has good works prepared for me that look nothing like the good works prepared for other people. If you look closely at Hebrews 12:1–2, it says that as we fix our eyes on Jesus, we run the race marked out for us. Not anyone else’s—just my race. My accomplishments. My good works. My life.

Let me revise that: I’m crucified with Christ, so everything that happens to me are His accomplishments through me, His good works lived out through me, and His resurrected life lived through me. Even more important, these good works aren’t mine individually. Together we bear fruit for God. We “strive together” as noted in Philippians 1:27; we aim, like Jesus prayed for us in John 17, to “be one” and to “be brought to complete unity” (vv. 21–23). Together, “we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:4). We “spur one another on” as we bear fruit for God (Hebrews 10:24).

A Death of the Self

This concept of together bearing fruit rips apart my radical individualism, my personal goals, and my independent, high-achieving heart. Instead, I see myself as part of a body; I’m collaborating, interdependent, and deeply involved with others. We bear fruit together. I might not ever receive the credit. I might remain hidden, anonymous, and deprived of recognition. I might find my name dissolving into a group effort that never recognizes my contribution.

This kind of thinking—that I don’t have to be the one recognized—seems like a terrible death of self. I’ve spent forty years trying to be remarkable, notable, and remembered. I keep a powerful quote with me at all times in my phone that I read sometimes when I feel the old tug of wanting importance or recognition through my accomplishments. It says this:

Whatever would render us remarkable amongst the others, and for which credit would be gained among men, as if we were the only people who could do it, this should be shunned by us. For by these signs the deadly taint of vainglory will be shown to cling to us.[1]

Do you resist this quote because of the idea of not trying to be “remarkable” in comparison to others or not trying to gain credit? This thinking contradicts my entire upbringing. Isn’t the point to stand out, to be the best, and to get all the glory for yourself that you can? I lie awake at night, thinking about this quote. I think about what it means to raise exceptional children. I think about how, all my life, I was taught to gain credit and to achieve. The early church fathers don’t suggest we shun receiving credit and appearing remarkable; no, they declare we turn from these behaviors as soon as we believe “we were the only people who could do it.”

It Isn’t About Us

It is God who gives us our talents. It is He who gives us our intelligence. I have nothing within me that wasn’t given to me by God. With these truths, pride (vainglory), cannot take root. I also remember in Philippians 2:6–7 how Jesus who, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.”

“We have been created and redeemed in love and chosen to proclaim that love.”

Could I take on the very nature of a servant? Could I proclaim, as the prophet Isaiah did, “Your name and renown are the desire of [my] heart” (Isaiah 26:8)? Seated people can agree to turn from fame and importance. Seated people can, in the words of Henri Nouwen, embrace their irrelevance. He states:

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is why Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of human life.[2]

We have been created and redeemed in love and chosen to proclaim that love. We offer our “irrelevant” and “vulnerable self ” to others. We are seated. We abide instead of achieve, and we find a new way to think about our work and our goals. We accomplish many wonderful things, but it’s not about certifying or creating an identity for ourselves. It’s not about guaranteeing a seat at the table.

Seated people abide in Christ, and good works come like the inevitable fruit that comes from the vine. But how? Abiding in Christ means continually setting Jesus before me in my mind. In Psalm 16, David writes, “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

Setting the Lord before me has everything to do with thinking about Jesus, talking to Jesus, learning from Jesus through the Bible, and involving Jesus in my daily affairs. It’s a mindset and an attitude of praise, worship, thanksgiving, confession, supplication, and consultation as I ask Him for wisdom for every decision. I stop worrying about what I’m accomplishing, and I focus on Jesus.

I think about growing my soul. And then, fruit comes.

[1] Early Church Fathers in Henry Wace’s compilation.

[2] Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York: Crossroad, 1992), 30.

For Further Reading:

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