A couple of weeks ago, a friend of my children sat down next to Matthew McConaughey on a flight from San Antonio to L.A. There they were, a regular gal and the Hollywood heartthrob, inches away. During the flight, she resisted the urge to ply him with questions, but as they prepared to land, she leaned over and asked if she could take a selfie with him. He politely refused.
I suppose those who make a living with a camera in their face need a breather once in a while.
The incident reminded me that whatever perks fame may bring, it also comes at a cost. Sleazy tabloids publicize intimate details of your personal life. Even your spouse and children are not off-limits to prying eyes and fawning fans. And, of course, you’re no longer just another airline passenger, but the face that’ll get a record number of likes on an Instagram post.
The cost of fame is a tax most of us will never pay. We live in relative anonymity. But that obscurity can be taxing as well, in a silent and painful way, because the lack of attention we receive leaves us wondering if our lives are all that important. If we even matter. If anyone would miss us if we just disappeared.
It begins early in life, this burden of being unnoticed and feeling unimportant. We envy the cool kids in school, the quarterback on the football team, or the pretty girls, because they get all the attention. Later, we envy the associate who gets the promotion. The colleague who wins the award. Or the former classmate who still seems to be the Golden Child of life.
We often forget that, for the vast majority of his life, Jesus was just another Joe Blow.
And us? We live and work not in the spotlight of fame, but in the shadows of anonymity. Get up, go to work, take the kids to school, eat dinner, watch T.V., go to bed. Then hit “repeat” the next day. We are, by the world’s standards, boring. Ordinary. Just another face in the sea of humanity. Unnoticed, unexemplary, unfamous.
And, in that way, we’re just like God was during most of his earthly life.
The Ordinary Jewish Kid from Nazareth
We often forget that, for the vast majority of his life, Jesus was just another Joe Blow. Yes, his birth was big news for a small crowd. And, yes, some rabbis might have recalled that Passover, years ago, when a 12-year-old Jewish wunderkind stood toe-to-toe with them in the temple. But besides those two occasions, before Jesus turned 30, he lived a remarkably unremarkable life.
He was like every other Jewish kid. He didn’t emerge from Mary’s womb with a Ph.D. from the University of Jerusalem. He had to learn everything from his Hebrew ABCs to how to tie his shoes. Later, Joseph likely taught him the carpenter’s trade. He got up every morning, ate breakfast, went to work, had dinner with his family, then went to bed. Then hit “repeat” the next day. God was, by the world’s standards, boring. Ordinary. Just another face in the sea of humanity.
Though, of course, he was to become famous (or infamous, depending on your perspective), for most of Jesus’s life among us, you couldn’t pick him out of the crowd. He was just another worshiper at the synagogue, singing David’s psalms and learning about Moses, Joshua, and Samson. Just another 14-year-old boy whose voice was deepening and who had peach fuzz on his upper lip. Just another guy in his mid-20’s, stopping at the Nazareth lumberyard to pick up some nails and 2x4s. His daily work, his weekly routine, his social life, were underwhelming.
And this ordinary life, a mirror of our own, Jesus lived for us, to sink himself into our existence, to become and experience everything we are and do, and to show us that our unremarkable lives are suffused with the hidden glory of God.
The God Who Counts
As you sit there at your desk, or behind the wheel, or visiting with clients, and speculate that your vanilla life makes no real difference in the world, remember that the eyes of a loving and interested Father are watching you, and a smile beams from his face. As every nail that Jesus hammered was a delight to his Father, so every email you send, every purchase you ring up, every table you wipe down, is a delight to the Father.
As you put your head on the pillow at night, think about your life and work, and feel so small, so meaningless, remember that every hair of your head is numbered by God. And if your Father cares enough about you to count your hairs, do you doubt that he counts every minuscule detail of your life as important to him? He counts how many minutes you sleep. How counts how many hugs you give your children. He counts how many miles you commute to work. He counts how many emotions you experience, secret tears you cry, inner turmoil you feel. Why? Because you count to him. You matter to him more than you’ll ever realize. And since you matter to the Creator of the world, then you also matter to the ongoing life of the world.
You and your life are hidden inside Jesus, and Jesus is hidden inside you and your life. And he knows a thing or two about being just another person. He lived that for the first 30 years he was here among us. Like us, he lived a seemingly small, unimportant life. And yet was it? Hardly. He was living for us, living with love and mercy and obedience, that he might give that life of perfection to us as our own. And now, he also lives within us, works through us, prays inside us, that our lives and his become bonded as one.
A child of God, a brother or sister of Jesus, cannot live a small life because every life is a big life to the Father. There are no unimportant people in his kingdom. Every life, every job, is suffused with a secret sanctity which heaven applauds. No one else may see it. We probably will never see it ourselves. But God does. And our Father rejoices over us as only a Father can.