Well that’s basically what a friend was asking this week. What difference have I made? What mark have I made in this world? What will I be remembered for? What have I done with my many years of life? What have I achieved?
I think she was really asking that old question from childhood: What will I be when I grow up? And that brings up other questions: How will I know when I’m grown up? Do I have to grow up? Do I really want to grow up?
But back to the original question: What difference have I made?
I remember reading somewhere that the ocean doesn’t care whether you take some water with a bucket or a cup. What matters is what you do with the water. And whether you enjoy the ocean. Perhaps the question isn’t what difference have I made but what difference have I experienced.
In last year’s Anglican “Lambeth Conference,” a number of African words were shared with us westerners. “Indaba” groups is a Zulu word for meetings where significant questions are worked through in a community, and the Zulu word "ubuntu", translated as "humanity to others", describing the ubuntu philosophy: "I am what I am because of who we all are," the call to community and communion.
So I wonder if maybe that significance question might best be explored in community. What am I a part of? Who am I linked to? What are we doing together which takes us well beyond the “me” to “we.”
Another way of looking at it is to consider what we are becoming as we live in this world. I met the “be perfect” verse (Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father who is in heaven is perfect.”), when I was about 11, Lutheran, in a boarding school in India, dominated by American Baptists who just deleted this verse with their perpetual “nobody’s perfect” attitude. (Being 11 and away from home and among these very different theologies, I encountered the kind of challenge to my own beliefs that most people meet in college. It was, to say the least, very strenuous for an 11-year-old.) A good little Lutheran child, I had been nurtured with the principle of sola scriptura ("by scripture alone"), so I wasn’t content to dismiss the encouragement to be perfect.
So, I climbed a tree and took my Bible along to read and think. And I noticed that we were told to be perfect as God is perfect. It was all too clear to me that I wasn’t being told I should be as perfect as God is. Then I thought, “Oh! God is perfect as God; I’m to be perfect as me.
Then in my adult scripture study, I learned from a commentary that the Greek word that the translators interpreted as “perfect” actually means “brought to full bloom,” “perfected.”
So now I don’t think so much about what I’ll be when I grow up, but about what it is that I’m growing into, what I’m becoming, not about what I’ve achieved, but about coming to full blossom.
Well, Alfie, do you think maybe that’s what it’s all about?