It was about halfway through the promotional video that I realized they were using my words on the voiceover. Every subsequent word confirmed it. Excitement rose up in my bones: they were using my letter! I would be named at the end of the video! I was surprised that no one had asked permission, but I shrugged if off. After all, it was a public letter, written as a part of Wheaton College’s Tuition freedom day. That year, I’d received a particularly generous scholarship and wanted to communicate my gratitude. Stories of the Lord’s provision and faithfulness. And now, in the official college video, they were using my letter.
I’ll never forget the sinking feeling when I got to the end of the 1:34 video and all I saw was the school logo. Where was my name? My picture? Even the handwriting of my letter? I dug through my recall – had I put my name on the letter? Why wasn’t it included? Why had no one tried to track me down? Here was this beautiful, professional video with my words eloquently weaving the piece together. It was my gratitude, my story of God’s provision. And yet, my name was nowhere to be found.
The video would come and go and I would never be associated with it. No one would ever praise me for it. I wouldn’t be getting the glory for thanking the donors that year or for being obedient to the Lord in steps of faith that don’t always make sense.
Then again, the donors aren’t being praised for their faithfulness either. Most of them don’t have their names all over campus. It’s a quiet, nameless sort of obedience to be the “vessels that God is using to provide for my education.”
I remember later that semester of my sophomore year, one of my professors posed a question:
Are you willing to serve, do all that is is worthy and beautiful, to give you life away, and not be remembered for any of it?
Clearly, I wasn’t.
But it wasn’t entirely my fault. Because, for as much as I had learned and actively pushed myself (or had the Lord push me) towards humility up to that point, there was still more. The process of being made nothing and Jesus getting all the glory is uncomfortable and painful. And there always seems to be more. It is the actions of anonymity, the hours of intercession in solitude, the offering in secret, the handing over the microphone, or letting your name fall from the record.
We say things all the time that make sense in our head: Jesus gets the glory, it’s His story, not ours, we’re only living for an audience of one, and we will become nothing so that He can be magnified. But when we fade deep into the shadows and the things that make us feel worthy are no longer seen, the reality is something different. We don’t mind it being Jesus’ story if we’re the one who gets to be seen and praised for telling it. We want the life worthy of the biography, but the kind that gets written because you live with such humility that you’d never dream of writing it yourself (ironic, right). We see the people in Scripture who seem insignificant compared to Abraham, King David, and Paul, but they still get a minute in the spotlight. People like Rahab, Boaz, Abigail, or Joseph of Arimathea. I tell myself that I’m okay with humility if it means being one of them. I don’t need to be as beloved or well-known as John, as long as I get to be remembered for my faithfulness like Anna or Lydia.
But what if loving Jesus means that I don’t get to be remembered at all?
What if I lived like it really isn’t about me?
What if I really did decrease, so that He really increased?
What if obedience and faithfulness looks more like the story of the man in Ecclesiastes 9, a story that is only two verses long –
“There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it. But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard.” Ecclesiastes 9:14-16
The man was clearly operating in some personal and probably spiritual gifts, including a bent towards leadership, if he had wisdom enough to deliver the city from the siege of a great king. Yet, Scripture is clear about both his poverty and his lack of recognition. Yet no one remembered that poor man. God gets the glory in the city and he fades into the shadows. Poor, unremembered, and deeply known by the King of Kings.
Stewardship and humility are not mutually exclusive. We are called to die and that means dying to our desire to be remembered. If we’re fighting for the accolades, the book deal, the speaking engagement, the twitter hashtag, or the biography-worthy life, are we fighting for our glory or Christ’s? None of it is about us. We must decrease.
The reality about being remembered is that the closer I get to Jesus, the less it seems to matter. When I hear Him tell me just how deeply He delights in me, how permeating His hesed love is, how His covenant with me is irrespective of my worthiness, the easier it is to spend my life being forgotten. I can say that “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30), knowing that it’ll mean spending all my energy, my body, my resources, my time in a love for Jesus that may not be remembered. The more that I feel and know that I am as beloved as John, the less I feel the need to be remembered for that.
The more that I’m fighting for Jesus to be illuminated, the more I’m okay I am with living in the shadows. The more that I’m okay not being remembered if it means that Jesus is.