I’m not trying to brag here, but last night, I struck improv comedy gold. It was the kind of hot streak I imagine professionals in the glittering hotbeds of comedy – you know, like Hollywood or Vegas, or the Big Apple – dream of.
The scenario was simple: my character – an affable, but sadly intellectually-limited crocodile named Barney – was taking part in a spelling bee with his best friend, also a crocodile named Croc. It started out predictably enough, with Croc receiving his word, spelling it correctly, and moving on to the next round. Then, it was Barney’s turn.
I saw an opportunity and went for it, improvising a stunning plot twist where Barney not only spelled his first word correctly, he spelled all the words correctly. And no one was more surprised than Barney himself. He was hooting and hollering in joy and disbelief as the correct spellings spontaneously popped into his head. He didn’t even know the definitions of any of the words, but he kept lining them up and knocking them down one by one. Barney leapt for joy. Then, he fell off the bed. And the audience went wild.
The audience of two.
You see, this little comedic gem of a scene was held in my younger son’s room, with only my two boys as witnesses. As I was laying out the scenario, hitting the punch lines, doing my silliest overbite Barney voice, I’ll confess that the thought crossed my mind: “This is really good stuff. I should be writing this down. Maybe I can use it for something more important.”
Gulp. Guilty confession. Because what I’ve just admitted to you is the all-too-common perception that the good stuff, the real stuff, is somehow more valuable on a bigger stage, that scaling up the size of the audience will somehow make the talents and callings I possess more worthwhile.
And, shortly behind that thought comes another one: that the converse is also true – a talent or calling which exists only in the service of a few, is less worthwhile.
And that’s dangerous thinking. It can result in believing that what we have to offer – our skills of baking, or cut paper crafts, or woodworking, or writing, or poetry, or acting, or a thousand other little flickering flames of calling and talent – are less valuable to the Kingdom of God than those belonging to someone who does it “for a living,” with a large e-mail newsletter, a website, a giant following, to showcase their skills.
Why is it dangerous? I think it’s because of what can happen after those thoughts cross our minds. We shut down. The fuel feeding the flame gets doused, the oxygen to our passion gets cut right off. Why bother making those homemade greeting cards for my friends? Why write that poem for Sunday worship service? Why explore on canvas with paint and see what develops?
We ought to do the work God has placed inside our hearts to do. We postpone any thoughts about scale and audience to some other day, some other time. And, most importantly, we refuse to judge worth or value from the scale and audience which develops.
Story after story in the Gospels affirms the teaching of Jesus that we are here for service, and that the primary purpose of our talents is to edify others.
“Envy is when you covet another person’s story,” writes John Mark Comer. “And no matter who we become or how much we achieve, there’s always someone out there who makes us oh-so-aware of our inadequacy.”
Jesus says, “Truly, I tell you, anyone who gives a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward,” And Comer asks, “what is Jesus’ example of work deserving of a reward from God himself? A glass of water.”
He goes on, “It’s easy to think that to be great … we have to do something high status … But Jesus makes it clear he’ll also reward the stuff nobody knows about. The hard mundane, thankless work of mothers and mechanics and second-grade teachers … Work that doesn’t get much attention or applause.”
I’ve seen this in my own home, and the lives of many of my friends, time and time again. A pot of homemade chicken noodle soup saved our family’s life last month when it was delivered by a loving friend to our back door in the midst of a crisis week. My school drama club regularly injects me with joy when they run, fall, dance, and sing their way through the play I’m directing.
And there’s no one but a handful of us watching.
But they’re faithful to show up and give, which I think is the most important thing. The audience will come, I’m sure, but the joy is in the making, while it’s being made.
I pray for the faithfulness to persevere in my calling and not grow weary in it, as I pray the same for you, dear friend, in the giving of your gifts and talents for the audience, no matter how small or large in number it may be.
It will be worth it.