Everywhere I look – on social media, television commercials, slogans printed on T-shirts and pasted on signs – the prevailing message today seems to be about achieving greatness, thinking big, striving for the maximum measure of success.

“Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great,” I read on a social media post this week.

“We should be bigger than Amazon, bigger than Starbucks,” said another post, promoting church growth.

And we’ve all heard how we should “Make America Great Again.”

I feel like I may have written this before, but if everyone is determined to be on top, who is on bottom? If everyone is determined to make their life the best, whose life are they unknowingly making worse?

“Maybe God isn’t interested so much in greatness as in goodness,” I thought aloud. “Or in greatness as in faithfulness.”

Granted, there is a kind of greatness that is also good. The CEO who elevates others through generosity. The Olympian who uses their platform to inspire. The influencer who influences people to pursue social justice. But perhaps, such actions sprout from the desire to be good, not the desire to be great.

In church a couple of weeks ago, our pastor shared a sermon based on road signs she’d encountered on a cross-country trip, messages such as ‘Stop,’ ‘Yield,’ and ‘Detour.’ “If God gave you a road sign, what would it be?” she asked.

“Expect Delays,” I joked to my husband, sitting beside me, thinking of how long most of our projects take, like working on our house. Then in my mind flashed a picture of a sign like those posted along highways to mark a low overpass, and a whisper spoke to my heart, “Height Restriction.” In other words, stay humble, serve.

One of the people I admire most is Patricia St. John. “Who?” a writer friend asked last week when I mentioned her name. St. John was a prolific Christian writer in the mid-1900s, but she was also a nurse and missionary who lived a life of service. Rather than seeking acclaim, she sought to improve the lives of those around her, like those of the abandoned children living on the streets of Morocco whom she taught and cared for.  

As a writer, I find myself constantly in conflict between wanting to be great and wanting something so much richer and deeper and more enduring – to be present, to be humble, to write words that lift up others.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus’s closest friends were arguing about who would have seats of honor in heaven. They had it all wrong, Jesus reprimanded them, “If one of you wants to be great, you must be the servant of the rest” (Matthew 20:26, GNT). Which makes me wonder whether we have it all wrong too.

Or in the words of a quote given to me by a friend that lives on my refrigerator:

“Because we children of Adam want to be great, He became small.

Because we are always seeking to climb higher, He stepped down.

Because we will not stoop, He humbled himself.

Because we want to rule, He came to serve.”

Sister Eva of Friedenshort

Perhaps true greatness is not measured by how high we rise but by how low we are willing to stoop. Not by what we accomplish, but by what we help those around us accomplish – the incalculable impact of loving others.

Meadow Rue Merrill, author of the memoir, Redeeming Ruth, writes from a little house in the big woods of Mid-coast Maine. She is also the author of the children’s picture book The Best Birthday and four other books celebrating the holidays in a way that builds children’s faith. Connect at www.meadowrue.com