The rows of crosses stretched far beyond the edges of the photograph, their whiteness standing in sharp contrast to the green grass between each grave marker. The seemingly endless rows overwhelmed me, and I found it hard to remember that beneath each cross lay a body that had once held a soul.
I pondered this: Each one of these soldiers laid down a life in war. While they were in battle, did they ever wonder if they, as an individual, were actually making a difference in the world? Did it seem as though they were only significant when joined with a multitude of others? Or significant when they achieved a certain rank? Yet they did their duty and fought for freedom. They were faithful to work at the task set before them.
I pondered a different aspect of this later, when I read Time magazine’s cover story on the “100 Most Influential People in the World”. I knew twenty-three of them; the rest were unknown to me.
I wondered, “Who on earth is . . .?”
- Amy Smith (She’s an inventor who tries to make simple machines for specific, practical needs of those in Third World countries, which are then built locally. She invented a hammer mill that converts grain to flour, among other things.)
- Jaron Lanier (He wrote the book You Are Not a Gadget, which details the “power—and—limitations of human interaction in a socially networked world.” Did I mention that he started studying virtual reality in the 1980s? That’s long before I even thought about virtual reality.)
- Michael Pollan (He wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma, detailing all that’s wrong with our food system, which has become so badly awry that you don’t want to know what’s in that corn-fed beef on your plate. Then again, you probably should know. It isn’t good. Pollan wants to change that.)
I read about doctors searching for a cancer vaccination, paleontologists toiling to collect fossils, political figures trying to better our lives. I didn’t always agree with their ideas or worldviews.
But in many cases, I was impressed with how dedicated they were to their work, how they pressed on to achieve their goals, and stayed true to their vision. And yet I hadn’t heard of seventy-seven of these influential people. They were unknown to me, though my life and thought has probably been influenced by them, and undoubtedly unknown to many other people. Yet the lack of fame didn’t deter them: they remained faithful to their work.
Sometimes I read the statistics of how difficult it is to be published, all the hoops I’ll have to jump through to get an agent (and then a publisher), how the average book in America sells about one-and-one-fourteenth copies. (I’m exaggerating, but that’s sometimes how it seems.)
And I become discouraged. Is my work even worth it? Will I ever have a significant platform (or at least sufficient enough to persuade a publisher that I can sell a novel)? Even if it is published, will my book make any difference at all, to anyone?
Deep inside, I know I am supposed to write. But what if I never succeed in getting a book published? What if I never succeed in making a difference in someone’s life through my writings? What am I supposed to do then?
I do not pray for success; I ask for faithfulness. –Mother Teresa
- If success looks like living a long and pain-free life, those dead soldiers didn’t succeed.
- If success looks like fame, then the virtually unknown but influential people in our world didn’t achieve it, either.
- If success looks like wealth and prosperity, then Mother Teresa didn’t achieve that in the slums of Calcutta.
But if what’s important is faithfulness, then the soldiers knew what was important. Young and old alike, they laid down their lives in the faithful defense of freedom.
Our influential and yet unknown people of this world are faithful to promoting their causes, inventing ways to make our world safer and healthier, and influencing our worldview.
And then there’s Mother Teresa, who was certainly faithful to continue her work even when things were hard.
They remained faithful to their calling . . . whether or not success followed their efforts, whether or not they achieved fame, significance or importance to other people. They proved that no one is too small to give of themselves, too unknown to influence, or too seemingly insignificant to contribute positively to the world around them.
So I take heart from this. I may not be a household name or an important person or have a book published, and I may be completely unsuccessful as I pursue this path of publication.
But I don’t have to succeed in my writing. I have to be faithful.