“I’m trying to leave something behind.”

This hook from Sean Rowe’s song “To Leave Something Behind” has lodged itself in my heart and in my theological imagination lately. These words crystallize a yearning that shapes my life, at least on my best days.

Wanting to leave something behind contrasts sharply with wanting to make a name for myself. I’m not interested in slapping my name on buildings or hats or t-shirts. Creating a stir with my tweets and making headlines do not inspire me.

Chasing greatness strikes me as a fool’s game. Don’t believe me? Read the story of the Tower of Babel. A telling biblical hook captures the ill-fated builders’ motivation: “Let us make a name for ourselves.” (Genesis 11:4b) Their pursuit of greatness collapsed into anarchy, estrangement, and conflict. And so do all such pursuits.

Leaving something behind isn’t about me. On the contrary, it’s about devoting myself to something larger than myself. A common good. A world that will nurture and sustain others, including and especially those who come after me.

barn-raising-the-farm-at-walnut-creek-ohio-LargeLeaving something behind doesn’t mean making a better place for myself in the world. It means making the world a better place for everybody.

To put this in Christian terms, Sean Rowe’s simple hook has me thinking about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Jesus says that the Kingdom is like a mustard seed or like yeast. A tiny mustard seed can yield a tree. A pinch of yeast can turn a heap of flour into a loaf.

To wind up with a tree somebody has to plant the seed. There won’t be a loaf if someone doesn’t prepare the dough. Somebody has not only to dream about what might be, but must also commit themselves to it.

The Kingdom, in other words, is like a pearl of great price. Someone found it in a field and sold everything to buy that field. That person was all in. Utterly committed.

Now here’s the thing about the value of a pearl. There is no guarantee that others will value it as much as you do. Like any investment, it’s a risk.

The seed, the yeast, and the pearl teach us a lesson about possibilities. Not inevitabilities. Things may not turn out the way we want. But Jesus tells us to plant. To knead. To invest. Devoting ourselves to the Kingdom—trying to leave something behind—isn’t the same thing as betting on a sure thing. It’s an act of trust.

Trying to leave something behind is also an exercise in letting go of control. I’m not a bread baker. But I do know this much. At a certain point you have to leave the dough alone. If you mess with it, you’ll ruin it.hands-kneading-dough

Devoting ourselves to the Kingdom has nothing to do with sitting on our hands and waiting for God to do all the work.

And yet, Jesus teaches us to do the good that we can do and to trust that God is working through other vessels in ways that we probably will not perceive.

I dream that people will inhabit a world where every person’s work provides a life filled with dignity. I dream that the elderly and the handicapped will have the support and care that every human being richly deserves. I dream of a world where quality healthcare is available to everyone.

I dream of a world where we value people more than profits and social rank and possessions.

We don’t live in that world right now. But it’s the world I want to leave behind.

24 Comments

    1. Thanks for reading along with me and reaching out. By the way, I only know you as Ian’s mom. That’s a great way to know you. I’ll happily stick with that if you prefer, but I definitely know you through your wonderful blog.

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  1. Thank you for being a vessel for God. Your posts always remind me of the greater good in God’s Kingdom; His need for us to plant seeds, nurture them with The Spirit, and to let the Master Gardener’s plan grow.

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  2. Hi Jake! Very timely as I was thinking of the mustard seed last night – it grows into a tree that dominates the garden. Empire, right? Only its God’s Kingdom in this case. Just now, thought of Nebuchadnezzars Dream. Also a large dominating tree. Empire. When I woke this a.m. I was thinking about how one of my Dad’s favourite passages was in Eph 6 about putting on the whole armour of God and the thought suddenly hit me that not all of the armour is defensive, there’s a sword – the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God”. So we’re called to arm ourselves (spiritually) and fight – like you say – “not sitting on our hands”. Things I’m learning thru yr lessons + things I recall from Dad are fitting together like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle making a new and more meaningful whole. Thanks!

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  3. Thank you good Bishop for wise words. They are an inspiration as we leave for Uganda on Saturday. This wraps up my why I want to go. You have inspired me always to reach out and touch others to help their lives be better. This reaching makes my life better. So glad you are on my side.

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  4. I remember what a rabbi said many years ago. So many older people think about what to do with their physical belongings. He thought that leaving your children your values is more important.

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  5. I always appreciate the thoughts that you turn into words and then into messages. When we lead Morning Prayer at St. Andrew’s, several of us choose to read what you have shared for that week. This piece is especially meaningful to me. Being a bit of a control freak, I like being reminded that sometimes I need to “leave the dough alone.”
    Nancy

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  6. Your musings are like little pearls to me. I come hear expectantly to feed my soul some tidbit that you’ve written. Pearls are valuable to me. My grandmother’s name was Texas Pearl. I come from a long line of men with Reverend in front of their name on both sides of my family tree. Some were fire and brimstone planting fear in the heart of the listener. Others were in touch with the true nature of our Lord and taught us to love our enemies. You fall into the latter category. Your talk seems to be your walk. You share as one with your heart on fire to call the one the one sheep looking for the light. I will come looking for those tidbits again and again. And when I lay at the feet of my Savior I’ll thank him for your tireless devotion.

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    1. Thank you for sharing some of your story with me. It makes your kind words about these posts especially meaningful. In truth, my walk is sometimes more of a hesitant shuffle or a weary limp. But from time to time it’s also a confident stride. Thanks for walking along with me!

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