Do I Matter?
As conversation swirled around me, I felt myself becoming invisible, like Marty McFly in Back to the Future whose image faded from the family photograph.
We were camping over Memorial Weekend with friends, who had also invited another friend of theirs to come along. She was associated with the military, and my husband, who had been fascinated with planes and flying since boyhood, peppered her with questions. As she talked, her confidence and knowledge of her subject were obvious.
Meanwhile our friend Linda shared stories from her days as a mental health nurse. Of the five adults at our campsite, I was the only one not currently employed. My husband and I had a beautiful nine-month-old girl and I had taken a leave of absence from teaching. I loved the time at home with her. Yet, at not quite 28 years old, I struggled with feeling marginalized.
In any gathering, tales of triumph and woe at work seemed to be the hot topic. I had nothing to add. My stories centered on teething and crawling; my woes the never-ending laundry and feedings, my lack of sleep.
Throughout high school, college, and my early career days I had been part of the culture of productivity. Suddenly, as a stay-at-home mom I was on the outside. Although I was where my heart wanted to be, I was no longer sure of my value. Did I matter anymore?
In the years since then, I worked part-time for a while and then left the conventional workforce altogether. I have been fortunate to teach private music lessons from my home, fitting this work around my commitments to a family that expanded to include five children. My life is full and satisfying. But I wouldn’t be honest if I claimed that the lack of an office, a title, and a regular paycheck doesn’t trip me up from time to time.
This uncertainty over value isn’t mine alone, nor is it limited to moms who leave careers to stay home with young children.
Young women who are single while their friends become wives and moms face it. So do retirees. Empty nesters whose social lives used to consist of following their kids sports and music activities deal with it. And then there are those who are aging, no longer able to do volunteer work or to stay in their own homes. In all these seasons and transitions, the underlying questions are the same.
Am I defined by what I do?
When I am able to do less, am I worth less?
If we are fortunate to sail through the first six or seven decades of our lives untroubled by these questions, we will eventually confront them due to illness and aging. We live in a youth-obsessed, achievement-idolizing culture. When our bodies begin to betray us, what do we have to contribute?
I find a beautiful answer as I observe a friend who is now in her eighties. She has undergone several surgeries and even had a bout with cancer.
These things may have slowed her down a bit, but this amazing lady remains engaged and interested in people’s lives, and she is sought out by many for her listening ear and her wisdom. A mutual friend of ours recently quoted her as saying she doesn't really have time to do jigsaw puzzles in the common room of her senior living center because she has too many people to pray for!
This dear soul brings the concerns of three generations of her family before the Lord. She lifts many ministries before the throne of grace. And for many years she has been on the spiritual front lines as she prays on behalf of missionaries around the world. She is doing some of the most impactful work a person can ever do.
When the years begin to take their toll on me, these are the footsteps I want to follow in. Like my friend, I want my inner light to shine brighter as my body begins to fade. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).
The truth is, we can all make a big difference, even in the midst of small lives. We can speak words of life and love to those we interact with, whether it is 2 people a day or 200. We can send notes full of words that build up those that read them. And we can impact lives far beyond the walls of our home by praying, no matter our physical health.
It is like the story of the widow’s offering told in the gospels. When we offer ourselves and our abilities to God’s use, though what we have may see small in our own eyes, it is not small to Him. Each faithful act of love and obedience is beautiful to Him and useful in His kingdom. What could matter more than that?