In general, I struggle with comparing myself to others–usually to my detriment. One example involves my introverted/INTJ personality. Such a personality means I’m a lot better at having fewer, deeper relationships than many broader acquaintances. I struggle to serve and care about people with whom I don’t have a previous connection and with whose history I’m not familiar. I’m not good at loving people just because they are people. I know we as Christians are commanded to love others, all others, but it is hard for me to give a crap about strangers. I’m not trying to excuse myself–I know this is an area where I can be stretched and challenged.
It’s not wrong that my nature, the way God created me, makes me better at channeling my love and service into a few profound, focused, devoted friendships. But often I feel inadequate compared to pastors and missionaries, whose work serves dozens, hundreds, even thousands, sometimes in a single day or hour. I don’t want to be a missionary or a pastor, and I don’t believe I am called to be so in the traditional sense. But sometimes I can’t help feeling like a failure because I don’t have a natural inclination for such work.
The other night, I was reading a couple chapters of Mere Christianity, at a part where C.S. Lewis describes humanity as not a bunch of separate beings all walking around, but one big organism extending back all through human history. Each one of us, he says, is a different “organ” in that organism.
When you find yourself wanting to turn your children, or pupils, or even your neighbors, into people exactly like yourself, remember that God probably never meant them to be that. You and they are different organs, intended to do different things. On the other hand, when you are tempted not to bother about someone else’s troubles because they are ‘no business of yours,’ remember that though he is different from you he is part of the same organism as you. If you forget that he belongs to the same organism as yourself you will become an Individualist. If you forget that he is a different organ from you, if you want to suppress differences and make people all alike, you will become a Totalitarian. But a Christian must not be either a Totalitarian or an Individualist.
It got me thinking about my role in that organism (also called “the Body of Christ”). I thought of how doctors have different specialties. Some of them are more generalized than others, but they all have their purposes.
When it comes to caring for the “organism” that is God’s people, maybe people such as pastors and missionaries are the family physicians and general practitioners. They are really good at meeting a lot of common, general needs. Maybe more intense, focused, introverted people like me are the specialists, the cardiologists and oncologists and psychiatrists. We’re there when something (or someone) needs special attention.
A heart surgeon has fewer patients compared to a general pediatrician, but they serve different purposes. The one doesn’t have the knowledge or capacity to do what the other does. In God’s grand plan, neither is “better” than the other. They just have different roles. Sometimes they may be called on to do things outside their usual scope, but in general, God has particular niches for them.
Now, people in the church do tend to think that certain roles are more noteworthy than others. Pastoring and being a missionary, for example, are often considered the “important” jobs, probably because they tend to serve the most people, and they are often the most visible positions.
Depending on where a person is in life, however, or what they are going through at the time, they may get nothing out of a sermon. The pastor is fulfilling his role, but it is not what that one person needs. Instead, it may mean everything for this one person if another Christian, one without an official title in the church, just sits with them and listens to what’s going on in their life, and offers some simple prayer and encouragement. That doesn’t diminish the pastor’s role; they are just serving different needs.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. ~I Corinthians 12: 13-27