I’ve always longed for greatness. Not in the sense that everyone knows me or that I’m famous. Rather, I have always desired a great mission or task in life. I want to contribute something to the world and I want it to impact people. This weekend I watched The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler and I was re-filled with the desire to pursue greatness.
Irena Sendler was a young Polish woman who lived during the time of World War II. She was a social worker, but her work went far beyond her simple job title. During the time that the Jewish people were being relocated to the ghettos and then to “work camps,” Irena worked tirelessly to smuggle children to safety. Risking her life, she worked with a courageous group to secretly save children by tucking them into tool boxes, packing them into boxes, or hiding them in vehicles. Later caught, she endured torture and was nearly killed, all the while never giving up any secrets.
In total, it is said that Irena Sendler and companions helped to save 2,500 Jewish children in Poland. The children were placed with convents or families throughout Poland. She kept meticulous records of who their parents were and where they were placed in the hopes that families would be reunited after the war. This young woman quietly changed the world and, initially, received little recognition for it. She was awarded Righteous Among the Nations in 1965 and later named an honorary citizen of Israel in 1991. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, for most of her life she lived with little acclaim or notoriety for her heroic actions and sacrifices.
While I do not hope for concentration camps or totalitarian regimes, this is the greatness for which I long. I look at her life and I see a greatness that goes beyond one person. Yet the greatness that I see and anyone can see who looks at her life was not recognized by Irena herself. She did not see herself as a hero or seem pleased with her accomplishments. Instead, she said that she could have done more to save more children.
Perhaps the Lord is merciful to us by not allowing us to see our own greatness. I am not claiming to already be great. But, perhaps, if I achieve this greatness I yearn for, I will not even notice that I have done so. Maybe, like the saints who saw more clearly their own sin the closer they drew to God, so those who are great see only where they could have done more.
I am certain the Lord has a reason for things being this way. Perhaps it is would do more harm than good for a soldier to see the great work he has done in the midst of the battle. During our lives here, we are embroiled in a constant battle, although we often fail to realize it. The Lord gives us encouragement and tastes of success along the way, but I believe He prevents us from knowing the full extent of our actions. He does not let us see how awful we are in the midst of sin nor do we see how holy we are when becoming saints. In all, He strives to keep us on the path moving towards Him, without us constantly bemoaning our awful state or patting ourselves on the back over our wonderful achievements.
But post-battle? The Lord will reveal to us what have been done through us by His grace. I was once told that at our death we will know everyone who has ever prayed for us and how much they have prayed for us. And, for a while, I would drive by a random person and say a Hail Mary for them and then think, “Wait until we get to Heaven, buddy. Then you’ll know that I prayed for you and I’ll see what the Lord did with it.” I eagerly await seeing in Heaven all that the Lord has been doing with our prayers, sacrifices, and actions. And to also see how the prayers and sacrifices of others have provided for me in ways I never suspected. As a teacher, I am hoping to find out that my words and classes did more than they seem to now. I am hopeful that behind indifferent exteriors are hearts being pierced by the truth although they do not show it. I hope that in Heaven I will see how the Lord has worked through my written words or through my silent actions.
This greatness I long for, something which I believe is rooted in all of us, may only be realized in Heaven. And for my small, prideful heart, that is probably what is best for it, lest it become too concerned with itself. However, that doesn’t stop me from longing for it. That is what is written into my very nature. The Lord has placed in our hearts a longing for the infinite, something which only He and Heaven can fulfill. Until then, I will always be wanting something that this world can never fulfill.
During this time of Advent, that is good to remember. I am waiting for Jesus to come at Christmas, but I am even more so waiting for the second coming of Jesus. This time of preparation is one that transcends trees and presents. I am preparing my heart for the truly great arrival of a King. This King wants to make His home inside my own heart. May the next weeks find me preparing my heart to make room for this Greatness that longs to reside within me. And may I be prepared to give this Greatness to the world.