Friday, July 25, 2014

WHAT CORNER DO YOU SHINE IN?

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Many of you may be struggling with the same quandary as I once did—to make sense of life, especially when you feel you haven’t fulfilled the need that instinctively resides in every human breast, to perform some noble service to humanity through which your life will achieve meaning. You may secretly be wondering: “When am I going to make my significant contribution? And . . . what is it?”

Why is this so important to us? Because deep down we realize that if our own individual life has no meaning, then life in its grander perspective has no meaning either and we can’t handle that. Why? Because it begs a further question: Why, then, are we here? 

In this article, I will share with you my struggle and how a simple little Sunday school song that I learned when a small child gave me the answer. However, it didn’t come as an “Aha” moment until years later as an adult. When it did, this song made a greater impact on me than all the theology, psychology and philosophy books I've read, and it solved my personal dilemma. 

WHAT CORNER DO YOU SHINE IN?

When did my struggle begin?
My frustration about my own life’s purpose began in grammar school. 

I recall my teachers telling stories about outstanding people in history who started out with humble beginnings but grew up to become these really, really great individuals who influenced the nation, even the world. One teacher told how Abraham Lincoln, despite his poor education and the fact that he was raised in a log cabin, grew up to be President of the United States and made his great contribution by abolishing slavery. Another teacher told about Madame Curie who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work in isolating radium that led to the treatment of illnesses.

Then, of course, there was Mozart, Michelangelo, Sir Isaac Newton, Alexander Graham Bell, and we can’t leave out George Washington Carver (what would the world do without peanut butter?) and many others. 

In more recent times, other individuals have made significant contributions, and the list could go on:
  • Martin Luther King with his dream of equality . . .
  • Leonard Bernstein’s musical gifts . . .
  • Luciano Pavarotti’s voice that thrilled millions . . .
  • Albert Einstein’s brilliance in science . . .
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe’s world-changing book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin . . .
  • Mother Teresa’s charitable work to the needy . . .
I firmly believed that those individuals who contributed so significantly to the world were led by God’s spirit to do exactly what they did.  Similarly, whatever I was supposed to do was what God particularly appointed me to do.

Naturally, the objective of my grade school teachers was to inspire our young minds to realize our potential and convince us that we, too, could do something great for mankind.

Now, I’m sure I was no different than my other classmates who listened to those stories. Sitting there in class, we truly believed that we would some day make a great contribution to the world and influence humanity just like Abraham Lincoln or Madame Curie—for me, especially Marie Curie, after I saw Hollywood’s dramatization of her life starring Greer Garson (I’m sure dating myself). 

So, we students had very grandiose ideas about what we were going to do that would help the masses when we grew up. Back then I seemed incapable of narrowing my contribution down to anything smaller than the whole human race. Unfortunately, I think all of us, myself included, thought it would just happen willy-nilly with no effort on our part. Whatever it was that was inside us would have to break out and express itself and we’d hit the jackpot!


Nevertheless, albeit naïve, what was instilled in me remained and I carried my dream with me for years, determining that I was going to do all these great things and make this terrific, tremendous, significant, outstanding, enormous, colossal (yet, of course, humbleJ) contribution to the world.

My apple cart is turned upside down
The unsettling reality of my naiveté and the perplexing problem that began to gnaw at me by he time I approached middle age was that so far, nothing big and specific had happened in my life to fulfill my pressing need:
  • I hadn’t discovered a cure for some deadly disease.
  • I hadn’t composed any powerful symphony that thrills people’s souls
  • I hadn’t produced a lilting song that the whole world sings; 
  • I hadn’t been recognized by the world at large
  • Neither had I become a best selling author (the book subjects I write about only appeal to a small select audience).
Was I frustrated? Well, yes. My day was definitely not going well . . .  What I was facing was failure as a human being. I also had to face the fact that life itself may be purposeless and meaningless. It frustrated the heck out of me. What was the problem? Was I supposed to wait longer? But I was already 60!!


The need to create the right question
I decided I needed to formulate a question I could ask myself that would help me recognize when I had achieved this.

That’s when I cane up with a two-part question: (1)What kind of question can I ask myself so that I’ll  know whether I have achieved my great contribution? (2) What point in time should I ask myself this question? I thought about that and, since my life wasn’t over yet, it came to me—at least my first attempt at an answer.
 It would be when I am finally lying on my deathbed and looking back over my life. At that point, I would ask myself the question and, having lived my life, either be able to acknowledge, or not, that I made some great discovery, cured some disease, wrote some great book, or performed some significant service ¾all of which would have benefited the world and helped the masses.

But whoa! Who wants to wait until their deathbed?

Shouldn’t I be able to determine if I had achieved it sooner than that? If I wait until I die to figure it out and I don’t see any kind of satisfaction in SOME accomplishment at that point, my life would definitely have proved utterly worthless. I absolutely didn’t want to face that . . . I couldn’t.

So, I discouragingly sat down with myself and said, “Self, face it. At the ripe old age of 60, you haven’t become an Abraham Lincoln, a Madame Curie, or even a John Steinbeck—nor will you ever. You’re simply not going to do anything that’s going to influence the whole human race. You’re going to have to settle for just being plain ol’ Janis Hutchinson who isn’t going to do any more than what she’s already doing.” It was a moment of abject worthlessness beyond description, because I realized it would bring me to my deathbed realizing three things:

1.     I had failed God (or did he fail me?)
2.     There had been no purpose or meaning to my life, and . . .
3.     . . . if there was no meaning to my life, life itself has no purpose either (the latter can be devastating enough).

While I was laboring through all this, something unusual happened! I heard something!

Revelation at last!
What did I hear? A simple little Sunday school song that I learned when a small child. I began singing it to myself¾couldn’t get it out of my mind. What on earth, I wondered, would make me think of it after all these years? Over and over it went in my head, day after day after day.

The song only had four short lines—and please pay attention to the underlined words because even if universal life itself may have no particular meaning for you, individual lives do. This is where the rubber meets the road as far as one’s life’s purpose and meaning goes.

 Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light
Like a little candle, burning in the night.
In this world of darkness, so let us shine,
You in your corner—and I in mine. 

Well, the first 3 lines were nice, although liking myself to a “little” candle was somewhat troublesome . . . but it wasn’t so much about being a “candle” that grabbed me but the last line about "corners." Corners were LITTLE! They were SMALL places! Was I supposed to be a little candle in a small, insignificant corner of a room like where spiders hide? Surely, I wasn’t to be relegated to that! 


What kind of corner was this song talking about?

So, I began to dig into what corners were.

What is a corner?
A corner, as we already understand, is a small, remote space between two converging lines, like the corner of a room where 2 walls meet. That corner-space is always part of something larger - but it is NOT the large part itself (the whole room)¾it’s only a corner of it.


This led to my next question.

Are there other kinds of corners other than where two walls meet?
Yes. There are 5 different kinds. For example:
1.     We live in a world which is in a particular corner of the universe
2.     We live in a country which is in a corner of the world
3.     We live in a State which is in a corner of the country
4.     We live in a city which is in a corner of the State
5.     We live in a house, apartment or condo, which is in a corner of a city.

The above are all the options we have to shine in. Some people are fortunate to shine in all of them (notables we learned about in grammar school). A further example is Mother Teresa who shined in all 5 and was recognized in all countries. Here were her 5 corners:
(1) She lived in a corner of the world, South Asia.
(2) In a corner of South Asia she lived in a corner called India.
(3) In India, she lived in the corner/state of West Bengal
(4) In West Bengal, she lived in a corner city called Calcutta.
(5) In Calcutta, she resided in a corner of West Bengal called “Missionaries of Charity Mission” where she ministered to the sick and dying.
Jesus also functioned in more than one corner—a corner of the world called Palestine; a corner of Palestine called Bethlehem; a corner in Galilee; a corner in Jerusalem; a corner in Samaria by a well; a corner on a hillside.

Similarly, we all have the same 5 locations to function in. I live in a corner of the world called America. In a corner of America, I live in Washington State. In Washington State, I live in a corner called Everett. I live in a corner within the city of Everett—my condo. In my condo and elsewhere, my church for example, is where I function. (Can I call it “shine?”)

Actually, I don’t need to shine in all 5 of them . . . just one, because all our “corners” keep reducing down to one—our individual corner where we function as a human being in whatever unique abilities God has blessed us with. The problem is that oftentimes we don’t realize what they are and that we’re making a contribution.

When Jesus said in Matt 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men that others may see your good works and glorify your father in heaven,” he did not mean that we have to shine to the WHOLE world all at once! Just in our own unique individual corner.

The difference in everyone’s corners
The difference is that your corner will never be like my corner, and my corner will never be like yours. As the little Sunday school song goes: “You in your corner, and I in mine.” We can’t shine in someone else’s corner. Their corner is distinctively theirs, as is yours.

Now, let’s talk more about our “Individual Corner,” since this is the one that should concern us the most. This is the one where we function according to our abilities we’ve been blessed with, or a profession we’ve been trained in. However, within our Individual Corner are two sub-corners: (1) a “Specialty Corner” and (2)  “Unexpected Corners.” Here are the definitions of each:

Specialty Corner This corner is where we function in the areas of our expertise, meaning the talents, capabilities and qualities the Lord has blessed us with (teaching, writing, art forms, singing, love, hospitality, friendship, etc.) It may also include what we are trained in, e.g., teaching, writing, administration, business profession, church ministry, or music.

Unexpected Corner(s)
These corners consists of the places we unexpectedly find ourselves—in a corner of the supermarket, parking lot, at church, the work place, on an airplane, etc.

Let’s take our “Specialty Corner” first. And I’ll have to use myself as an example since I can’t speak for the rest of you.

My Specialty Corner
Within the walls of my condo, my "Specialty corner" is my computer room. Lining the walls of that small room are bookcases containing a zillion books, four beat-up filing cabinets, a printer, a computer, and a table with a six-tiered set of filing baskets wobbly perched on top of each other that some have referred to as my “Leaning tower of Pisa.”
There, I spend most of my time, out of the public eye, writing. This is my passion. And usually one’s “passion” is what God has called you to and we should recognize it as the purpose or calling in our life.

For me, writing books, magazine articles, and my blog (also teaching at church) is the purpose of my life and what I’ve been called do. How do I know? Simple. Because it’s my passion!


There, in the corner of my computer room, I fulfill my “Specialty Corner.” Plus, I also mentor former cultists worldwide (those coming out of false, sometimes abusive, religions) and spend hours responding to emails from them to help them through the difficult transition into Christianity. I’m able to help because I have expertise in that area.

I didn’t plan for all this. It just progressively happened due to my life’s experiences. It sorta sneaks up on you, which is why we often don’t recognize it as our life-purpose. My Specialty corner is where I feel the most useful and where I would like to think, as the little song goes, “Jesus bids me shine.”

Now, even though I do all this¾and this is the point¾I’m not some big name that the whole world knows. I am not functioning to the whole world en masse as I once dreamed as a child. I simply function in one tiny corner, hopefully letting Jesus work through me so my “little” candle will shine and affect the lives of those I’m particularly fitted to help.

Hopefully, you will also know that your amount of shining doesn’t have to bring you huge national or worldwide attention—it can be something less than that. Yet, at the same time, it will convey a huge benefit to whomever is on the receiving end.

Now, we come to our second sub-heading in our Individual Corner:

Unexpected Corners
While we all have our Specialty Corner to shine in, Jesus bids us shine in ANY corner we happen to find ourselves in. It consists of those places we spontaneously and unexpectedly find ourselves in, although it may or may not involve your “specialty.”

The following are 6 true stories that illustrate “Unexpected Corners.” (Hang in . . . they’re good ones!)

Story No. 1
This story appeared in Guidepost magazine many years ago: 

A small Christian mission was trying to establish itself in an Asian country by functioning in a rented room in a building in the poor part of town. Their front door opened on to the sidewalk that edged the main street. But so far, the mission hadn’t been successful in gaining converts. 
Then a woman came in and converted to Christianity. She couldn’t speak English and she couldn’t even speak the language of most of the people in that town. But she was so happy to have found Jesus that she wanted everyone to know about Him. 
She thought and thought—What could she do? Where could she shine the best? Having come from humble circumstances, all she knew how to do was sweep. So, every day she went out on the front sidewalk of the mission and began sweeping. 

To everyone who came along she shined each one a great big smile and excitedly told them about Jesus even though most couldn’t understand her. Then she would motion to them and invite them into the mission. 

Day after day after day, week after week, month after month, she continued to sweep and smile, sweep and smile. Many were caught up by her contagious smile and entered those doors and their lives were changed forever. Many who would otherwise never have known the Lord were brought into the Kingdom. She made her contribution as a little candle in the corner she found herself in and she made a difference. 

Story No. 2
The author, Robert Louis Stevenson, went to live in Samoa for his health. The natives loved him. To them he was “Tusitala, teller of tales.” But he was also more than that. He was their kind friend. 

Stevenson became concerned because the natives had only a narrow, rugged path on which to bring provisions from the harbor to the interior. It was a difficult undertaking and so Stevenson, with his own money had a good road built. In gratitude for his kindness the Samoans named it, “The Road of the Loving Heart.”  
Building that road, however, wasn’t Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Specialty Corner” to shine in. His specialty corner was writing books. But he recognized and took advantage of an unexpected corner of the world he happened to find himself in, and seeing a need acted, made a difference and indeed shined.

Story No. 3
Debbie, a staff writer at a St. George, Utah newspaper, tells her experience:

She pulled into the parking lot of the local supermarket. It was winter and snowing and on the curb at the entrance sat a man, his face red from the cold. He continued to sit there, his hands out of his coat sleeves just far enough to cling to a cardboard sign, “Will work for food or money.”

She went into the store and bought her groceries. As she stood at the counter, she overheard two ladies discussing the man at the curb. One said, “They shouldn’t allow those kind of people in St. George.” The other agreed, mumbling about what a disgrace it was to have “those” people in their city, and concluded with, “The store Manager ought to go shoo him away.” 

Debbie paid for her groceries, still thinking about the man. When she went out to her car, he was still there with his red face, holding up his sign¾and it was still snowing. She got into her car, drove by him, then circled around and drove by him a second time. She studied him for signs of alcoholism or some disorder that would tell her it was okay to disqualify him as a human being. She thought about a recent Association Press’ expose on the amount of money made by professional bums. He could be one of those crooked guys! But as she looked into his face she saw sadness, hunger and desperation. She also saw a brave survivor. She headed for home again¾then turned around and went back. She parked and watched as vehicle after vehicle passed the man by. No one stopped. It continued to snow¾and he continued to sit. 

Then, she thought about the high cost of living and what if she suddenly found herself without a job¾could she survive?  Wouldn’t it be nice, she thought, for that man to think that someone, even a total stranger, cared? For less than $5, she purchased a cheeseburger and a hot bowl of chili. She returned, stepped out of her warm car and took it over to the man on the curb. She said in her account: “The spirit contained within that man’s smile was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received."

She concluded her newspaper article by saying that perhaps if we all cared just a little bit more, it would be a wonderful life for everyone.

In other words, what she was saying was is if we would all anticipate the little unexpected corners in life where we can shine and realize we can make a difference, the world would be a better place because of us. Her "Specialty Corner," as a staff writer, was journalism. But that day she shined in another of life's corners she hadn't anticipated.

Story No. 4
Some years back on the program, “Sixty Minutes,” the guest was a black man. He was unemployed¾actually, a bum who lived on the streets. But even in those dire circumstances he found a corner he could shine in, illustrating that we can make a difference no matter who we are.

Every morning he would stand at a busy intersection. There, he would smile and wave, calling out “Hi” to everybody¾not only to those driving to work in their cars, but to passersby’s on the sidewalk who, if he came to know them, he’d call them by name. 

People soon came to look forward to passing that corner. He made such a big difference in their lives and became so popular that Sixty Minutes interviewed him. They not only interviewed him, but also took time to interview those to whom he waved. Many of those individuals said that getting up to go to work and facing morning traffic was a real bummer. But when they passed his corner and he smiled and waved, they said it changed their whole attitude for the rest of the day. Person after person who was interviewed said that “bum” made a difference in their life.

Story No. 5
A story in Guideposts entitled, “The Conversation I’ll Never Forget.” It took place in a Veteran’s Hospital where someone almost missed their unexpected corner: 

A prospective patient named Bob was sitting in one of the waiting rooms and there was a patient across the table from him who wanted to talk. Now, you know, sometimes we’re in the mood to talk, sometimes we’re not. Well, Bob was deep into thinking about his own medical problems and didn’t want to talk. Every time the patient would try to draw him into conversation, Bob would give him a curt answer. But for some reason the patient persisted. 

Finally, Bob says, “I opened my mouth to tell him off completely. But instead something made me yield, and to my surprise we were soon involved in a lively conversation. I was impressed by the friendliness and enthusiasm this patient put into every word he said. I found myself warming to him¾even began to like him as I intently listened. Well, we finished our coffee and I got up to go”. Then, this patient remarked to me very calmly:   
It was sure nice talking to you. Tomorrow morning I’m to have a laryngectomy on my throat. This is the last conversation I’ll have with this voice.” 

We can shine in so many places. Not only in the expertise and talents God has blessed us with, but also:
  • Showing patience when an elderly person can’t move as fast anymore, or hear as well.
  • Reaching out to individuals with particular problems and loving them unconditionally.
  • Curbing our criticisms and thinking of something positive to say.
  • Building people up when they’re down.
  • Offering someone a warm shoulder in this often cold world.
  • Providing household maintenance to a widow who can’t afford to hire something done, or helping her when she may be ill. (Men: plumbing, moving something heavy, etc. Women: housekeeping, meals, shopping, etc.)
  • Giving a pat on the back, or a hug to someone that relays, “I care”
How sad it would be if we were so busy looking for the one great thing that we could do that we become blind to the people in need standing on the small common corners of our lives.

Story No. 6
This story took place on a cold, rainy, night:  

While I was waiting at a bus stop, an elderly woman got off a bus and walked slowly over to where I stood. “Could you tell me when the next bus is due?” she inquired of him. I asked which bus she wanted and when she told me, I exclaimed, “But you just got off that one!” 
“Well,” she stammered a bit shyly, “you see there was a terribly crippled young man on that bus and nobody offered him a seat. I knew he’d be embarrassed if an old lady like me got up for him, so I just pretended it was time for me to get off and I rang the bell just as he was alongside my seat. He wasn’t embarrassed, and I¾well, there’s always another bus.”

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I know I may have included too many stories, but I wanted to put across that it’s the LITTLE deeds in life that are big and important and hope you enjoyed them.

Our corners won’t always include a stage and a spectacular setting with the world as audience. Our life consists of small corners—nothing more, nothing less. All God requires of us is that we let our little candle shine. You in your corner, and I in mine.

Once I realized that I didn’t have to set the whole world on fire, but could function significantly in some corner no matter how small—and knew that this was all God expected of me and designed me for—this led to so much contentment—not to mention excitement. I could make my contribution any place I happened to be¾one corner of my computer room or on a street corner—even if the rest of the world can never see me doing what I do. I go about functioning in my individual “Specialty” or “Unexpected corners” quietly, and it’s okay and acceptable to God. 

Conclusion
Inside of us we all want to matter and make some kind of impact on the world. So, it is imperative that we remember these 4 requisites:
  • Your individual purpose is what you have a passion for and it resides “inside” you. It is up to you to discover it. If you can’t decide what your passion is, see the last paragraph.

  • You don’t have to achieve or do anything big or important like an Abraham Lincoln or a Martin Luther King. 
  • You don’t have to shine and affect the WHOLE world or the masses of humanity—only in your own corner.

  • Do not feel you’re a failure if you don’t shine exactly like someone else does. They have their unique corner. You have yours. As the Sunday school song goes: “Jesus bids us shine . . . you in your corner and I in mine.”
Still don’t know what your passion or calling is?
While many will say that to discover it all you have to do is recognize what your passion is (and they’re right), there are many who still find themselves frustrated in this respect.


If you are one of these individuals, the answer to your dilemma is to invite Christ and the Holy Spirit to come inside you so that he can reveal your passion to you. The Holy Spirit acts as a revelatory guide to help you accomplish your God-given purpose in life in all the corners God has designed for you. (He may also give you a gift you hadn’t anticipated.) When he does this, he will magnify your passion and purpose (that has lain dim within you all the time), and bring it to a brighter illumination so you can recognize it. In order to enable this, God set up a wonderful way to facilitate it so that he and his Holy Spirit can indeed be inside you (Col. 1:27). To see how the process works, go to Romans 10:9.

And age is no hindrance!

Until next time!
Janis

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The next post will be approximately September 1st 

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1 comment:

  1. Dear Andrew, Thank you for sharing your personal story. God sets a path for everyone to follow, and everyone has a story. What is amazing, however, is that often God brings one down a certain path for a reason and eventually veers them off on another path according to his amazing purpose. With a Latter-day Saint, it depends upon how much that person prays to be led to more truth, especially after they reach a spiritual plateau in the LDS Church that prevents them from having an even closer relationship with their Heavenly Father and understanding more of his eternal truths. That's when the Lord answers one's prayer and leads them to his total truth. And based upon one’s experience in their prior path, they can be used in so many ways to God’s glory. As you mentioned, my "bad experience" in the Montana cult is not what took me away from the LDS Church. I had already done my homework. It was realizing the deliberate cover-up of church history by the leaders, so many beliefs that contradicted the Bible, and other things too lengthy to go into here. I taught the Gospel Doctrine class for many years, knew my LDS doctrine backwards and forward, and knew it better than most. So, it's not that I didn't know what I was doing when I decided to leave the church to embrace Biblical Christianity. Telling others about what Mormonism teaches is not, as you said, leading others astray--not when one is using the Bible and what Jesus taught. I do not fault you for being in the LDS Church. You may be where God wants you right now. But, eventually, as you advance to that point where you confess to him that you want more truth about Him wherever it may be found, you will find the ultimate path.

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