The importance of the insignificant

The most critical element in the practice of theatrical magic is the art of misdirection: the ability to direct your audience’s attention towards one thing so that they don’t see what is really important. This is why, if you’ve ever had the chance to listen to a magician explain his tricks, you often feel utterly embarrassed at not having caught it in the act–because more often than not, there were no fancy tricks or false compartments; your attention was simply directed elsewhere.

In a culture in which attention has become our most valuable resource, it’s easy to get misdirected. Our money, energy, and time go towards whatever can catch us the quickest and hold us the longest. This applies not just to advertising, the news, and social media, but to our schooling, careers, and relationships. We’re driven by where we choose to invest our attention, and everyone and everything wants a share in the stock.

There are magicians all around us, holding up the ball and saying, “Look at this ball!” as he secretly slips another into his pocket while your eyes are focused elsewhere. In a world where distraction is rarely farther than our fingertips, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important: the ball that goes into the pocket.

I recently finished reading Anonymous by Alicia Britt Chole, in which she writes about the importance of hidden years and anonymous seasons. While we see Jesus at his birth, and once when he’s twelve, we don’t encounter him again in Scripture until sometime in his early to mid-thirties. What happened during those unrecorded, unapplauded years? Chole doesn’t speculate beyond the obvious: God was preparing him for what was to come. Otherwise, why not begin his ministry at eighteen or twenty? No, that time was spent invested.

And for us, the hidden things are not inherently unvaluable; in fact, they are invaluable. Unapplauded does not mean unproductive; unrecorded does not mean insignificant. Chole actually gives us a mathematical formula to describe the phenomenon. She calls it the iceberg equation:

10% visible + 90% invisible = an indestructible life

You want your life to be indestructible? You want your impact to be indelible, your legacy to be untarnishable, your imprint to be uneraseable? Then buckle up for several seasons of anonymity–of humility, invisibility, and insignificance.

The world is misdirecting our attention toward the unimportant: the applause that fades in seconds, the profitable career that eats your most valuable years, the status obtained by striving to fit a mold. Culture values busyness, profit, and results, where God gives  quietness, contentment, and growth.

Chole writes about the maple tree, whose leaves are stripped for winter: not to steal her beauty, but to prepare her for the coming season, in which care for those leaves would steal nutrients from where they are needed to sustain her. Instead, those resources can be redirected toward strengthening her foundation and spreading her branches to bear the snow without breaking.

Andy Stanley wrote, “It is our direction, not our intention, that determines our destination.” I’m currently at a turning point, a transitional season: the closing of one chapter and the opening of a new one. Amidst all the chaos involved in that, I’ve been challenged to check my direction. Am I moving forward, or just moving? 

I’m realizing that it’s not just the few big decisions, but the thousand little daily ones that make up who I really am. I am right now becoming who I will be; my prayer is that that is someone worth the effort.