The Fear of Insignificance

Jesus told them, ‘When you pray, say: “Father, uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom.”’”

Luke 11:2

Whether anything happens in prayer largely depends upon what kind of person we are. Many of us want to live a life of significance—a life that impacts our world in a large or small way. Such a life is rarely achieved without preparation, hard work, and the perseverance to move forward in the midst of challenges and difficulties. The road to significance is often hard. Yet, to recall a well-spoken line of wisdom from a movie some years ago, A League of Their Own, “It’s the hard that makes it great!” The question is one of orientation. Some seek to define for themselves what significance looks like and then move toward that vision. Others seek to know God’s will and then move toward that.

Regardless of our beginning place—fashioning our own desired future or seeking God’s future for us—we want to take full advantage of the years we are given on this earth. Robert Cohn, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s novel, The Sun Also Rises, comments to his friend, “‘Listen Jake,’ he leaned forward on the bar. ‘Don’t you ever get the feeling that all your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage of it? Do you realize you’ve lived nearly half the time you have to live already?’[1] Urgency has grasped Robert Cohn. Urgency grasps us. Looking back, we make a judgment, an evaluation of where we have come. Life is going by and the question presses, “Are we taking full advantage of it? Are we making a difference?”

If we are the kind of person that lives as we please, as we have fashioned our future, our aspirations, and our will, then the prayers we make will lack power. Prayers are rarely made unless our plans get into a snarl. That is the occasion we pray. We ask God to get us out of it; God is reduced to our celestial office assistant. Then we move forward with our own small plans. We remain unchanged. Ignoring God for a long time until our plans become jammed up is a little different from being a grasping child. The child asks the parent for unreasonable and selfish things. The parent may give what the child asks on occasion when it seems there is no other way to communicate love. But, as the child matures, parents help the child to think reasonably.

Those who seek to find God’s mind and will experience greater power in prayer. Principally, such persons pray because they love God and God’s will. Prayer is a communion between two who seek increasingly to know the other, to please the other. We pay close attention to a spouse or a dear friend to learn about them and to know what they like and dislike. Then we turn the orientation of our life over to causing the other joy. Loving and caring for the other is not separated from life. It becomes our way of life. In the final analysis, prayer implies a conversion, a new orientation to live not solely for oneself but for the other. It is a decision to turn our will over to the will of God. There, our lives find their significance.


[1] Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises,18.

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