Anonymity can be hard to come by for an American living in Africa.
As we drive through the shanty compounds, kids shout “Mzungu, mzungu!”––which roughly translates “hey what’s that crazy white guy doing here?” Here, there is no disappearing into the crowd, no blending into the scenery. We stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.
Thankfully though, Zambians are as gracious as a people could ever be, and make us feel right at home. They kindly ignore our ineptness with their language, forgive our social faux pas, and generally treat us as one of them even though we come about as close to being one of them at times as we come to being a hippopotamus.
It is strange to me that here in Zambia, where we Americans are often something between an odd curiosity and something curiously odd, I find myself longing for something I have seldom longed for in my life––namely anonymity!
For the most part, when I day dream (and I often do), I dream of rather grand things. I dream of saving the world, or of discovering a cure for professional wrestling, or of harnessing a natural form of clean energy, like those gigantic blasts of wind generated by certain elected officials. I have big dreams!
But I don’t ever really recall dreaming of anonymity. I remember in fifth grade, when our teacher had us all write down what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a comedian. She thought that was pretty hilarious. I guess it was.
The whole idea of anonymity though, seems completely contrary to human nature. Facebook, if it is anything at all, is the ultimate anti-anonymity device. Through the magic that is Facebook, we can now make public our deepest and most underdeveloped thoughts, to a bunch of people we hardly know. And they will very likely, “like” it.
We watch American Idol, not to see who will be the “next big star,” but because that show has a way of breathing life into our own clandestine hopes for notoriety. Because if it could happen to that guy…
The truth is, all of us are like Jesus’ disciples James and John, coming to Jesus with our hat in our hand, asking for seats at the head table (Mark 10:37). We are pretty attached to the notion that significance and status go hand-in-hand. And so, we make our way through life trying to maintain that ever-so-delicate balance between outward humility and inward ambition.
But the reality of the matter is that true significance never comes from our achievements. Significance comes only because Jesus gives it to us. He gave us significance at creation––when he created us in His image. And, he gave us significance at the cross, when he died for our sins. None of our achievements would ever matter in the least bit were it not for the fact that we were created in God’s image, and redeemed at the cross. Because apart from those two events, man is but dust, destined for the waste bin.
Our only hope for true significance, that is––significance that will endure throughout the ages, significance that is not faddish, or fading, but that is both fixed and forever, is to lose ourselves in the plans of Christ, and to embrace anonymity.
As Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).