I’ve always wanted to excel at something. When I was younger, it was dancing, sports, or teaching. Now, I aim to be a well-known writer and speaker.
Today’s my birthday. I’m *ahem* years old. Let’s just say I have more life behind than in front of me. So, I’m reflecting on my goals, purpose, and achievements, pondering if I attained the level of importance I desired.
But is greatness where it’s at?
In Oz the Great and Powerful, a movie I saw with my children a few years ago, the main character, nicknamed Oz, is a con artist posing as a magician. His objective is to be the hero. A series of events much like Dorothy’s, sweeps him away and he lands in, ironically, Oz (as in The Wizard of . . .). Ever the imposter, Oz pretends he’s the wizard they’ve been expecting and proceeds on a long adventure to capture the wicked witch.
Through his journey, his heart is transformed. Toward the end of the movie, the kind witch Glinda says to the wizard, “I knew you had it in you all along.”
“Greatness?” he asks.
“No, better. Goodness,” Glinda states.
Much like Oz, many of us pursue the wrong goal.Many of us pursue greatness over goodness. But is greatness where it's at? Click To Tweet
We desire glory, which depends upon our behaviors, attainments, and accomplishments. It requires acknowledgement from others and is derived from an external source. A noteworthy person achieves importance or distinction in a field. The opposite is insignificance. No one wants to be inconsequential.
While greatness sounds like the better of the two traits, I would argue that goodness, a fruit of the Spirit, is far superior because it comes from God. Biblically, it “is not a mere passive quality, but the deliberate preference of right to wrong, the firm and persistent resistance of all moral evil, and the choosing and following of all moral good.”[i] It denotes kindness and servitude. It’s a virtue, an internal quality—not earned by an outside source.
Why, then, do we pursue greatness?
- It’s easier to measure. I’ve attended too-many-to-count track meets in the past decade. At each one, the athletes who threw their implements the farthest or ran the fastest earned medals at the end of the day. The competitors who treated others with the best attitude? No medal.
- It’s quicker to obtain. My son worked hard and threw javelin and discus at track meets for over ten years. He achieved notable success within a short timeframe, bringing home awards when he was nine. At what point do we say someone has obtained goodness?
- Rewards. We can display medals and hang certificates. The feeling of accomplishment returns when we see the results of our hard work. Unfortunately, no such honors are distributed to the person who exhibits the most goodness.
- Accolades. At several National Championship track meets, my son stood on the podium and heard his name read over the sound system. Everyone clapped. But strangers didn’t fist bump or pat the back of the children who served others with excellence.
Why should we pursue goodness rather than greatness?
Paradoxically, goodness is an internal trait won by thinking externally. This person elevates God and others above herself. She sees a need and fills it. She speaks kind words to those who are unkind and loves those who act unloving toward her. This opposes the pursuit of prominence, which is an external gift gained by a selfish/internal act.
Those who pursue goodness may become great (think Mother Teresa), but those whose sole purpose is chasing fame typically fall short of goodness (think Adolf Hitler). Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 20:26 that if you want to be great, serve others. In other words, pursue goodness to find significance.
Goodness is a God-given trait that defines who we are at our core and reflects God to those around us. It is long-lasting, adds to our internal peace, and earns us accolades from our Creator. When all is said and done, I would prefer to hear God say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” than to have a thousand medals hanging on the wall.
When have you pursued greatness? When have you allowed God’s goodness to shine through you? Which would you prefer?
[i] “Goodness Definition and Meaning – Bible Dictionary,” biblestudytools.com, accessed October 1, 2021, https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/goodness/.