Tip-toeing along the forested trail with an early morning group of birders, I marveled at a ray of sun peeking through the canopy and illuminating the brush below. Binoculars at the ready, our small band had stopped to look and listen for the sounds of the small creatures around us. I became instantly aware of my own smallness in the midst of the magnificence of the natural world. There was only silence, but in that silence, I heard this:
You are of inestimable value, but you must diminish in self-importance.
I have to admit, this struck an immediate chord. Even among this little troupe I felt the need to be knowledgeable and capable; thus to demonstrate my value, I suppose. This became particularly and painfully evident to me among these experienced birders who knew much and didn’t feel the need to defend or withhold what they knew. They spotted and identified, not for show, but in order to point it out so that others could see it and learn to recognize it, too.
Bird identification, I have found, is quite a difficult skill. But it is one that can be learned over many hours of practice with a helpful mentor or teacher and a good bird book or two. The fact that you took an ornithology class with Dr. Byrd many years ago at William and Mary is nice but simply has no standing.
Still, in this moment of self-realization, I am also utterly assured of my inestimable value. Can I tell you I teared up a bit at this? It was okay to be less than; in fact, it would be necessary in order to claim my full value.
Shifting gears, here, but stick with me….
Upholding this new perspective on my return from the birding expedition, I felt inclined (nothing to lose!) to email the nationally known cookware retailer from whom I had purchased an expensive Christmas gift but which turned out to have a defective mechanism. We had only now (in May) had the opportunity to try it out and I no longer had the sales receipt, but I felt sure that upon hearing from a valued customer that this expensive item was defective they would surely make it right.
Well, a dozen emails later, including those with photos attached (per their request), the credit card statement indicating the date of sale, purchase price and the sales transaction number (also, requested), they ultimately and summarily declined to replace, repair or credit me for the item. Without a receipt, “they could not help me.” Their final word:
“I wanted to reach back out to you after I was advised by a member of Leadership on your situation. Regretfully, as was relayed to you previously, without proof of purchase we are unable to issue a replacement or a refund. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I trust you understand that your request far exceeds our guarantee and return window. Thank you and please feel free to contact us with any other questions. ~ Warm regards, Heather M., Customer Service
Warm regards, eh? But yes, I was asking them to forgo their usual policy in a gratuitous act of kindness and generosity they were not prepared to offer. I did now own $145.00 worth of beautifully hand-crafted Italian wood salt and pepper shakers that are completely useless. They made it clear that I have no right to ask for special exceptions; I am not that important.
And fortunately, having just embraced both my inestimable value and my need to diminish in self-importance, I was able (barely) to quench my desire to shoot back an email to this customer service representative threatening never to shop at this store again and to tell my friends the same and to post this on FB and twitter and perhaps contact the Better Business Bureau. As you can see, my dark, self-important side gave it a good run.
The truth is: the store was within their rights to deny my request. The bigger truth is: doing what you have the right to do isn’t always the right thing to do.
The newly humbled me did send a conciliatory email reply, thanking Heather M for looking into this for me and assuring her that next time I would try out my purchase right away and be sure not to misplace the receipt. Killing them with kindness didn’t get me a refund either.
But whoa, this interchange sure offered me an up-close look at my relationship with my own self-importance (aka pride) and how it can control me. I am not so important that I can make demands or expect special consideration. My ability to spend does not earn me extra attention. My status does not earn me exemption from the rules or excuse me from honoring the stated policy.
And while we’re at it, the One who established my value seemed to say, you are not too important to clean toilets or change diapers. Nor to do the dishes and take out the trash. Nor to teach special needs children, nor university students nor be President. Your value is, and must by rights be, separate from all these things. My sole responsibility in all circumstances is to do my part. My opportunity: to live the life I’m capable of. My calling: to do it all without drawing attention to myself. God is good with that.
When I am keenly aware of my inestimable value which cannot be diminished by any earthly thing, I don’t waste time buffing up my importance or defending it to others. I am nothing and that’s the starting point for everything.
Now I have a pair of useless salt and pepper shakers as a daily reminder. Maybe I’ll take them apart and see if I can get them to work right. Got nothing to lose.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 14:7-11
It’s been a while since I have been able to sit down and put two thoughts together with any cogency. Life has demanded I move at its speed, and I have dutifully complied, handcuffed as I was to things that needed doing on a firm timetable with no wiggle room.
As I now pause to take a deep breath, I am reminded of the story of the big game hunters who traveled to a distant and foreign land where they engaged local tribesman to carry their gear and belongings through the thick bush. Day after day, sunrise to sunset, they bushwhacked through thick jungle hastening in pursuit of the big game. One morning, as the hunters hurried to reengage the pursuit, the tribesmen stayed where they were, not moving, not rising, not packing, not tracking. “What are you doing?” the hunters implored, “We need to get moving!” The tribesmen replied simply, “We are waiting for our souls to catch up.”
Today, as the fog begins to clear, I am letting my soul catch up. My husband and I have just completed our own big game expedition. We packed up and moved out of our longtime home. All that has gone before has been boxed, bagged or tossed. How humbling it is to stand before your leavings at the curb — load after precious load.
Three things are pinging my brain:
- Buy only what you need and use what you have until it’s gone. Discarding so much — physically taking it out with the trash — forces me to see how much waste I am actually responsible for. Mother Earth, I am so sorry.
- Don’t save for a rainy day. Do it, say it, use it now. Omission is difficult to live with and often impossible to rectify. Deep cabinets are not your friend. If it doesn’t come close to hand, you probably don’t need it. Someone else needs it more.
- There’s never the right time to say goodbye and always time to say see you later. Even though later will likely never come.
The universe is showing me that there is a difference between value and worth. I have never been good at distinguishing these. Often I keep things because they “might be worth something.” (to someone else) Ah, but value… value is determined by me. The purging, packing and moving has insisted I declare it. What do I value so greatly that I want to take it with me? How can I help it live on? These things …
- I share. Things I share live on in the life of the other.
- I photograph. These allow me to recall and remember.
- I tell. Words expressed live on in the heart of the other.
- I hug. Sentiments conveyed live on in the body of the other.
- I thank. Gratitude completes what the heart knows.
- I give. A gift keeps on giving in and through the other.
- I save. Things that tell our story in a unique way reverberate.
- I collect. Remembrances with deep meaning go with me.
- I pray, over the house and its rooms, claiming its blessings and sending them on.
- I depart, trusting that closing this front door will allow me to the open the next.
Few things in life are mentally, physically and emotionally taxing all at the same time. Moving out of your home and your community is one of these things, and I am trying to remember that it’s okay to take care of myself while recovering from the taxing trifecta.
Funny, just when I begin to think of myself as nearly there, God shows me how far I have yet to go. Wendy, Wendy, you hold onto so many things. There is only one thing you need to hold onto and it is already holding onto you.
Saying goodbye to what we truly love is so very hard. Ah, but something of deep abiding value… that has worth always. It resides in us, stays with us, has life in us. Always.
Worth and pay are two very different concepts, especially if you’re in the service industry. In fact “service industry” seems an oxymoron to me. Serving, you do for worth. Industry you do for pay. The two seem mutually exclusive.
I am forced to consider this as a writer and as an entrepreneur. I do what I do for the service I provide, but how do I fund myself? Do I just rely on donations? Do I have a right to ask people to pay? If so, how much? How do you put a price on healthy, whole, fulfilled? This is what I hope to offer you, but these are long-term characteristics. On down the road I hope you will experience all of these. Right now, you just read or practice what I “preach.” No money changes hands. My payment relies on your generosity.
Out of the goodness of your heart you “like” my blog or you “like” my page or you visit my website. You are an online statistic to me. It’s a way you say “thank you,” perhaps without even knowing it. By clicking, you indicate that this has value for you, that you’re glad you came and you will be back for more.
Not a lot of money in that. Just relationship. But it’s mutual relationship and it’s lasting. That’s worth, but it’s not pay.
This is much like the waitress who’s salary is so much less than minimum wage. She works for tips, so what she makes is totally up to her customers. What I make is totally up to my readers. They visit and may click or even comment and be tallied in the “statistics.”
But this is a business. It has cost as well as benefit. And the business is to make money. That’s what businesses do. This understanding has come the hard way for me, but I’m getting it. If I make money I can spend it to grow the business, perhaps even pay myself a salary, but mostly to reach more people with the long term gains I am selling. I want people to be healthy, whole and fulfilled.
But where does the money come from? If we’re just clicking and liking. Well, it comes from advertisers who hope you’ll see them while you’re reading the content of the blog or the webpage. They want to persuade you to buy their products while you’re surfing the web. Sneaky those companies. Oh, you don’t have to buy. You can escape scot-free, if you’re disciplined and don’t give in.
But most of us aren’t. Or at least we’re very suggestible. The image or slogan remains in our minds and suggests itself again when a purchasing decision comes up.
But what of the writer, the waitress, the server, the servant? The one actually provides the service. They get paid tips based on your generosity. They get paid bonuses based on performance. They are in sales, and salesmen earn a commission. Salary is small, but if they’re successful in selling, they get a reward. That motivates them to sell well, be persuasive, be charming and endearing and helpful. Are you smiling, too?
All good, if they believe that what they’re selling is truly what you need. They’re not just trying to sell you so they can make the commission. You can tell the difference. The good salesman, the one who sells you what you need at the right price, you come back to again and again. You have a relationship of trust. He’ll winnow down the choices for you and you’ll be satisfied with your purchase. That’s a service worth paying for.
So, I look at the “likes,” “click-throughs” and “comments” on the newsire for which I write. They are meager but growing. In this world, that’s what sells. And the editor says, we’ll pay you based on those. Great, I work on commission.
But if I really believe the product I’m selling will help you be more healthy, whole and fulfilled, then it’s worth it even if I don’t rake in any of those proceeds. You get them. After all, I’m in the service industry. I am on commission. You get healthy, whole and fulfilled. Who could possibly pay what those are worth?
God can. It’s what He longs desperately for in our lives, but He doesn’t force them on us. He lets us choose. I’m in the business of selling them. I’m on commission. I work for God. So much more than a salary.