Do you ever feel insignificant? Maybe you’ve had a season of your life that was stressful and left you emotionally, physically, and spiritually drained. What makes these sorts of circumstances even worse is when the outcome feels different than the intention.
For instance, take Chris Travis’ story on for size. He tells his story in his recent book: in SIGNIFICANT: Why You Matter in the Surprising Way god is Changing the World. He and his wife chose to change their lives dramatically. Chris went from being on staff at church to teaching in the 8th Grade. For some of us, the mere idea of teaching in a Junior High School is terrifying enough and would easily yield the sort of depressing symptoms listed above. What if I were to add to this change the fact that Chris found himself teaching at the “School from Hell” as a New York Post article by Susan Edelman described it. She said the school is “a hellhole where teachers get combat pay – they are cursed, assaulted and sometimes groped….” (16).
Chris affirms this description and goes on to describe how he felt completely alone. Without support from staff or structure, he was a first year teacher in the worst school in New York. This led to depression, anger, and any other emotion that you may imagine. Ultimately, his experience led him to question his own significance. He states:
[T]he real focus of this book is on significance. This is a book about what matters. I’d write a thousand books to get this point across: In the surprising way God is changing the world, you matter… It was only after the two most difficult years of my life that I began to truly understand this simple truth about how much each of us matter. I’m sure I heard most of these concepts in seminary, but it wasn’t until I went through what I did that I actually learned them… I’m hoping that reading about my experiences will be enough for you to learn what I’ve learned. (19-20)
One area that he grew in was the call to trust Jesus fully. He says: “Before teaching in Harlem, I would have said my relationship with God was the most important thing… I didn’t realize how much I depended upon other things” (39). Something about being put in a situation where dependence on God is a survival skill helps us (Chris) to see the ways in which we don’t depend on God. God is not supposed to be an important part of our lives, God is supposed to be our whole life! This opens us up, as it did Chris as he served God in Harlem, to a renewed experience of the love of Christ.
Another area that became real as Chris taught in one of the most difficult settings imaginable, is he began to see that God was inviting him to serve and love all. This happens in the small, insignificant areas of real day to day life. When he embraced the reality that God only makes us “great” when we become “small,” the idea of being a servant became more real than he could have ever imagined. Only when he became dependent and chose to serve was he on the path to power, to sort of power that puts God’s love on display.
Eventually, not without heartache and struggle, Chris eventually found that he had a voice in students’ lives. Kids would greet him on the street simply to chat with the teacher they admired. He experienced somewhat of a turnaround. His story is truly inspiring and although not everything went perfectly he reminds us of how God is changing the world through empowering everyday folks to find their significance in God.
This short book seems to have made an impact on me as I had a dream that I was in the same neighborhood with my wife. We were there, without any known reason, and were both being offered jobs. Interestingly, something compelled us toward staying. In the dream, my wife was more open and daring than I was. I think that this dream simply testifies to how this story, although radical on many levels, is down to earth and an opportunity for all of us to recognize the way in which God is changing the world… through us.
In what ways do you feel God prompting you step out and discover your significance? Can you recall a time when you felt battered emotionally, physically, and spiritually but chose to persevere and grew in significant ways? Tell me some stories!
This review is part of the Patheos Book Club. To see other reviews and more book info, click here.