Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great. -- John D. Rockefeller
This quote was given to me by a friend in a little "ThoughtFulls" card as a special gift when we got together for coffee last week. I don't consider John D. Rockefeller a "spiritual writer," but I
do believe the Holy Spirit speaks to us through even the most surprising
voices. And these words resonated strongly with my thoughts.
Before I explain why, I have to say that I'm very curious about the context of this quote. What was Rockefeller thinking about when he said it? I wonder if Rockefeller said it early in his life when he was becoming one of the "Men Who Made America," and putting profit above humanity, or towards the end of his life when he became one of our greatest philanthropists, donating $530 million dollars to various causes, and thus putting humanity above profit. What were the "good" and the "great" he referred to? The way you answer that question for yourself makes a difference.
When my friend gave me this quotation, I had been thinking about priorities. In particular, about my priorities. I was thinking about the work I do: running the kids around town to school and activities, the housework and laundry, shopping for the things we need, cooking meals, helping with homework, and volunteering at the church. I was thinking about the things I don't do, but know I should be doing: spending more time playing with and guiding my kids, taking care of the yard and house better, connecting more often with friends, and working more on the book I'm trying to write. I was thinking about how I spend my free time: journaling and reading, making connections between faith and life, and sharing these with other people. And I was thinking that I should find a job that would fill up some of that free time: a job where I could actually get paid, a job where I could help people. Wouldn't that be a good thing to do?!
I started reading a book titled "Help," by Garret Keizer. I thought it was going to be about how to be really helpful. After all, Garret Keizer was a teacher and a lay minister for twenty-plus years. It seemed a perfect fit to my thoughts, and maybe it was -- just not in the way I expected. For Keizer tells a cautionary tale. He explores our motivations for helping people and the motivations of the people who seek help. Not all of these motivations are honorable. It was hard to read, especially when he began to describe his own less praiseworthy reasons for helping people: to feel important, to look good in the eyes of other people, to escape one's own challenging responsibilities, even to have something to write about. It was like looking into a mirror.
Then I read Rockefeller's quote, and I began to wonder.... What is the "good" and what is the "great" in my life? What has the potential to be "great"?
When put like that, my priorities became much clearer. Everything in that whole list above is good. But there are a few things in that list that could be great, and that I wish were great: my family, my friendships, and my writing and teaching about faith.
But greatness requires time. And there are only so many hours in a day. Which means that I'm going to have to give up on some of the other good things I do or think about doing. Like having a paying job. And some of my volunteer work.
Can I do this? The things that I value the most are not necessarily valued by other people the most. Can I accept that?
There are many things that make successfully achieving the potential I see completely beyond my control. Can I accept that?
I think I'm going to have to try. For this is my keenest desire. And it is beyond good.
May the peace
which passes understanding
be with you