Jane Addams wanted to help immigrants who were settling in Chicago in droves during the late 1800s. She settled them into a large mansion called Hull House, relieving them of having to live in the slums and red-light districts. Addams was head resident of Hull House until her death in 1935. Seeing the desperate needs of throngs of immigrants from Europe, she wanted to house and train them in one of the kindest settings possible, the home. By the time of her death there were 13 such homes/buildings and literally tens of thousands of individuals were relieved during their disorientation of being jobless, homeless, family-less, and English-speaking-less. I read her biography 40-plus years ago. One chapter still remains vividly in my mind…
It was titled The Snare of Preparation. Addams observed that it is possible to be so focused upon prolonged preparation that one can end up making very little real impact in the real world. She could have gone on, as a few of her friends did, to get a PhD, getting more and more formal institutionalized schooling. Observing others who had gone before her, she saw that prolonged preparation can become tempting to end up grooming oneself only for self-absorption. It was a stunning point. As a result of such thoughts, she took a fork in the road in her own life and set out to be effective now—sooner than personal perfection would have allowed. The result? Thousands of lives ended up feeling this inner tilt of the heart.
In the case of a talent, it is good to grow it forever, both publicly and privately. But be aware of the tilt of the heart as you do so. One may discover, too late, that there is no opportunity for “important impact” upon others at the far end of our personal preparation in the short life that remains. A good way to reconcile this tension of preparation vs. service to mankind is to become predisposed to being used by the Heavenly Father as you go, to be continually looking heavenward, yielded for how to give of one’s life and or gift now. Thus, while you prepare further, be mindful of asking the Father to use you now as He sees fit, blessing others on the way.
What does this look like in practice? Today, this week, do not hide your light under a bushel as you prepare and wait for some major break or culminating achievement or the pursuit of just-out-of-reach excellence… waiting to get over just one more mountaintop. Be ever watchful to keep your heart to be used of Him, continually and ongoingly—in whatever measure He opens up. Just remind yourself that you are not your own; you were bought with a price and your gift is not your own. This transference of focus deep within the heart of what it is you are actually doing and for whose sake is consequential work for all of eternity. It is not what we do in life, but why we do it that comes before the great and final bar of God. Seek Him and keep Him as the target and you’ll have no regrets.