There's a strong Gospel mandate for putting ourselves last. Jesus repeatedly tells us that whoever wants to be first should make themselves last, and whoever wants to be greatest should make themselves the least. When we read something like this, we think that means that this is supposed to start somewhere in greatness, in the world's high opinion of us (or our confident opinion of ourselves). After all, you can't make yourself least if you're at the bottom to begin with. Nobody will notice the sacrifice - or what it means - if they don't see the step down.
But becoming the least doesn't have to do with thinking more of yourself. Or less of yourself. Or even thinking of yourself less. These are all ideas that the world tries to frame for us because it doesn't have any other paradigm to put it in. The world only has a notion of itself, so of course, it is self-centered. For the Christian, however, counting yourself as least has nothing to do with self and everything to do with God.
Which means it doesn't matter where you start; becoming the least is about where you end up...and how you got there.
For example, you can become the least starting from a place of tremendous insecurity. Ah, yes. Insecurity again. Remember that post I made last week about how we're all insecure? Hopefully by now, you know that when I say that, I'm not talking about you; I'm talking about me. I'm talking about us. All of us. Don't panic. No one is singling you out.
But insecurity is a constant battle for all of us. We constantly wonder whether we're good enough, whether we're strong enough, whether we're kind enough, whether others like us enough, whether we're doing enough. We are constantly setting out to prove ourselves, not just to the world but to, well, ourselves. And to God. We want to make sure He approves of us, too.
You might say that it's hard to become the least when you think so little of yourself to begin with. It's hard to humble yourself when you have so little to work with. But maybe becoming the least isn't about fighting with your insecurity so that you have the confidence to think less of yourself, as if that even makes sense. Maybe becoming the least is about embracing your insecurity and deciding to do something with it anyway.
Picture it: you don't know what you have to offer. You really don't. You don't think you make a single contribution to this world. (More of us have these moments than you think.) But then you see a piece of litter on the ground, and you decide to pick it up. It doesn't make that much of a difference, you think, but at least you're doing something. At least you tried.
Then someone who thinks more of you than you could ever have imagined sees you picking up a piece of litter and has two thoughts: 1) this person I admire so much is humble enough to pick up trash off the street and 2) maybe I should care more about the little things.
Look at you, you insecure person. You just started a movement. You made yourself small in the world by embracing the smallness you feel and stepping into it, and you just started something big. And sometimes, I think that takes more courage than it ever does to give up your corner office. I think believing you can do one small thing often takes more heart than going after the big thing. But you did it. You didn't think it mattered, like you didn't think you mattered, but you did it anyway and you discovered that both matter - your act and your being. And all of a sudden, what Jesus said is coming true - the least is becoming more.
Not because you think more of yourself, but just because you embrace your smallness.
A lot of us - and I mean a lot of us - wonder how we're ever supposed to make a difference in this world, how we're ever supposed to live the kind of life Jesus calls us to live. Because we're so wrapped up in the world's idea of self that we think it's supposed to start with something bigger than we've got. But the truth is that most of the greatest things start with our smallness, with our embracing the insecurity that we feel and deciding that if one small thing is all we've got, it's still worth trying.
You never know what great things might grow from it.