The Call to An Unheroic Life

One of my girlfriends recently sent me an email that included something penned by Allen Levi titled “The Liberating Call to an Unheroic Life.” I want to share some bits and pieces from the article as I found them to be incredibly refreshing and encouraging as it relates to parenting/Christian living in the modern world:

“It struck me recently that there has been a common theme, even if only implied, in many of the books that I’ve read in the past two or three years. The idea seems to go something like this: we are, as never before, all members of a global community due, in large part, to the fact that information about everything everywhere is readily available to us all the time via the internet. There are very significant, very real needs in the world today — hunger, lack of clean water, human trafficking and slavery, environmental concerns, racial strife, nuclear threats, and so forth —  needs about which we can be thoroughly informed and toward which we, the church in particular, should be marshaling our most intense efforts.  The books encourage us, sometimes overtly and sometimes by suggestion, to take heroic steps to address the problems, to do things that are visible, newsworthy, and significant. Words like reckless, radical, passionate, extreme and crazy seem like the new template for what constitutes a genuinely Christian, biblically-oriented life. … Big solutions to big problems.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that I’ve been challenged, gratefully and deeply so, by the books I have in mind. They were and are thought-provoking and benefically irritating to me. And I do believe, if somewhat unconventionally, that ones who know and love and seek to follow Christ should be passionate (without being ostentatious), will be radical (but not because we intend to be), and might be deemed reckless or crazy (by those who don’t ascribe to the kingdom ethic). And I do wholeheartedly agree that it is part of the church’s mission, not just now but since the start, to be a voice, maybe the voice, for a compassionate and civil society.

But let me make this confession: the books, whether meaning to or not, leave me with a strong sense of guilt in me that I’m not doing what I should be doing to serve the King and the Kingdom. I find myself asking myself, as if faith is a competitive sport, if I am radical enough, or reckless or crazy or passionate enough. The question often leads to a mild embarrassment, or worse – contempt and ingratitude – for my quiet life in a small rural town. “Surely,” I tell myself, “I could be/should be doing more than I’m doing. All of the good Christians are doing momentous and dangerous and newsworthy things, like my brother has done for most of his adult life. Perhaps I should go far away, or move to the inner city, or do something worthy of a book.” The weight of those thoughts seems hardly encouraging or productive.

Some, of course, are called to bring down fire from heaven and slay giants and walk on water, and they are given courage and skill adequate to those tasks. But most of us, or so it appears to me, are called to live lives that are hardly heroic in the traditional sense of the word. Rather than courage for a short season, we are given perseverance for a long one. Instead of white hot passion, we are given devotion that burns with a slow, steady flame. Rather than a moment’s excitement about some burning cause of the day, we are given a lifetime’s commitment to THE Great Cause of eternity, which of course includes the here and now.

One writer, after noting that Peter found it relatively easy to walk on water for a few seconds but difficult to follow Jesus on dry land week after week, notes that “It (requires) the supernatural grace of God to live twenty four hours in everyday as a saint, to go through the drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus. It is inbred in us that we have to do exceptional things for God, but we have not. We have (only) to be exceptional in the ordinary things, to be holy in mean streets, (and to be loving) among mean people.”

The vocabulary for the present season is hardly glamorous. Passionate, extreme, crazy, radical – those words don’t seem to fit very well. Obscure, tedious, confining, tiring, unnoticed, but also, paradoxically, joyful, restful, real  — those are the words that more honestly describe the landscape of my life these days or, for that matter, most of the days in my 55 years. And, unless I am sadly mistaken, those same words might well apply to the most significant of our human endeavors and to the most valued of human relationships.

What, after all, are marriage and parenting but the unheroic call to lives of daily self-denial and attentiveness to the needs of another? What is it but a million small decisions made over a lifetime to view one’s life in reference to that of others, to the end that our loved ones will be poised to know the presence and blessing of God. It seems to me, from the outside looking in, that the love of spouse for spouse, or that of parent for child, can, at times and often for long seasons, be draining and unrewarded and, heaven forbid, unfulfilling. It is hard work. But what kind of world will it be when the humbling work of making family is altogether lost to our insistent call for individual happiness and self-fulfillment?

What, after all, is friendship, rightly lived, but the unheroic call to a thousand small conversations, and a hundred thousand prayers, and a myriad of encouraging words from one person to another? What is it but the bearing of burdens, the sharing of resources, the asking of uncomfortable questions and the possible discomfort of necessary confrontation?

What is citizenship but the unheroic call to dwell in a fallen world with an awareness that every small, infinitesimal life, lived with integrity or not, has potential bearing on every other small, infinitesimal in the body politic. What is it but the call to work ethically in the marketplace, to be a wise and generous steward of whatever wealth, property or giftedness God entrusts to us, and to live with kindness, compassion, and an understanding of right and wrong toward others?

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am grateful for the heroic and inspiring among us. And I am very aware that all followers of Christ, heroic or not, are to be lights on a hill, to win the respect of outsiders, and to be courageous witnesses to truth. But maybe the way we best do all of those things is by accepting at the outset that our call is to be servants, not heroes; to be storytellers and not necessarily story subjects, and to “decrease so that (Christ) might increase.”

Keeping in line with the themes expressed by Allen Levi, I just ordered a book by Dr. Tim Kimmel called “Raising Kids for True Greatness: Redefine Success for You and Your Child.” I have a feeling (based on the reviews and intro from the book I could find online) that the book is geared towards teaching our children how to answer the call to be servants, not heroes.

Some quotes from the book that I were able to read on Amazon, “According to Jesus if we want our kids to be truly great, we must first teach them how to be servants. But let’s face it; most parents aren’t raising their children to serve others; they’re raising their kids to be served by others. God’s goals for our children often run counter to the default mode of the human heart – especially a heart that has built its hope on the Carpenter from Galilee. That’s why God has put parents into the equation. We offer the best means to help our children make true greatness the ultimate goal of their lives.”

I’m excited to read the book and once I’ve finished it, I’ll let you know how it is. In the meantime, I’m going to try and model the best “unheroic”/servant life I can for my son and everyone else around me!


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