Don’t Change the World

Don't Change the World: Why you don't have to worry about making a difference

“All that is not the love of God has no meaning for me…If God wants it to, my life will be useful through my word and witness. If He wants it to, my life will bear fruit through my prayers and sacrifices. But the usefulness of my life is His concern, not mine. It would be indecent of me to worry about that.”

~ Brother Dominique Voillaume as quoted by Brennan Manning, All is Grace

It is the second and final night of the convention, and the room is lit fluorescent. The smoke machine is pumping, and the battle-cry is “Go!” because The Lost circle the earth and there are places where the name of Jesus is not known.

The music swells, the call is made, and you are suddenly clutching a 25-page, full-color Missions Trip Guide for the summer of 1998. A girl in an official conference t-shirt has grabbed you by the hands and is praying wildly over you, her brow sweaty, her eyebrows furrowed.

In the worship choruses that follow, you are vowing to be a Worldchanger. You are carried by the crescendos, hands lifted high above your head, asking to be used, asking for revival.

There has been a lot of talk these last few days about mediocrity. About settling. About being luke-warm, and you are learning to fear it all. You are learning to fear smallness and the suburbs.

At 15, you haven’t yet tasted alcohol, but you are drunk on all this passion. Your walk with God has taken on the wobbling, lurching quality of the intoxicated. You raise your arms higher, feel a wild hope rise in your heart, promise God that if he’ll let you, you’ll change the world for Him.


At 28, my life feels very small.

Most days, I stay within a ten-mile radius of our suburban home, orbiting the boundaries of our world: Target. Aldi. Our best friends’ house, with its wide-open backyard.

That battles I fight daily are small ones, not for souls but for just one bite of peas. I believe that the work of Christ involves standing between the oppressor and the oppressed, but the truth of it is that most days it’s all I can do to stand between the one-year-old and his big brother, who is trying to beat him with a matchbox car.

I know well that I have just this one beautiful life on earth and that the days are disappearing fast beneath me. I know this ache to make it mean something, to set the world ablaze.

But I am putting away the laundry now. I am asking him again if he needs to go potty. I am cutting up strawberries, picking up toys, scrawling in my notebook, and it all feels so small.


There has been a shift in the Christian culture and I feel it like a fresh breeze. Our collective consciousness seems to have awakened to the reality of injustice. We are learning that we cannot preach the Living Water without also building wells; that Good News to the starving includes both the Bread of Life and actual, physical loaves.

I love the ways people and organizations and ministries are orienting themselves toward clean water and holistic healing and making the world better.

I will admit that I sobbed through the Kony 2012 video. All those children. All those signs. A generation coming together to change the world.

But then, there it is again. That quest for bigness. I feel it in my heart in the same way I felt it as a 15-year-old. It is intoxicating and heady and I am impassioned to do something great. Start an organization. Raise a million dollars. Change. The. World.

And then the kids wake up from their naps, crankier than satan, and the dinner has to be made and I feel the smallness close in on me again.


This quote from Brother Dominique stopped me entirely when I read it. The usefulness of my life is His concern, not mine.

It speaks to the 15-year-old girl in me who learned that my life was wasted unless God used me in some world-changing way. It speaks to the 28-year-old woman who spends a lot of time rewashing the dishes that the dishwasher left crusty.

As it turns out, my responsibility is not to change the world. It is to lean into the wild love of God. To be moved by it. To crawl into its bigness and find myself different there.

Whether the things I do change the world is not my concern. My work is to let my heart expand in that holy, mysterious love so that when I meet the orphan or the widow or my neighbor or brother or enemy, I have something to give them.

God’s love is place and power and hope and healing, and it has changed the world before. It will change it again. It will change the world every day of my small, big life.

67 thoughts on “Don’t Change the World

  1. Excellent thoughts, Addie. Thanks for sharing this. It’s tempting to neglect the small part of the world God has entrusted to us in the interests of “changing the world.”

    1. Thanks Kevin. Yes, our culture has become very much about the “big audacious things.” But so much of the work of living is small, small, small.

  2. Wise words Addie. And there is so much guilt that can come when we try to be world changers and can’t pull it off. Sometimes the push to dream big needs to be tempered by listening for God’s still small voice.

  3. Yes, I call this my “Evangelical Hero Complex” because it’s a struggle. I came of age in the same stuff and it’s good to remember that it’s the mustard seed moments.

  4. I really like this post, Addie. I first read Brother D’s quote in Manning’s The Signature of Jesus back in the 90’s and was stunned by it as well. We have shamefully accommodated the culture with this hyper-masculine, stadium-filled change-the-world mentality. It’s very ego-driven and often narcissistic. God loves the cups of cold water simply extended and the small, copper coins given when no one is looking. These are the kinds of gestures that God empowers to change the world most of the time. We need to pray to be convinced that small is beautiful.

  5. This takes me right back to those youth group days, when life seemed more simple. The way Christians lived was so obvious and clear cut back then but I cringe now considering the things I believed and said. I’m grateful my faith has evolved but it’s funny how some of those beliefs come out of hiding every once in awhile. It’s easy to think the fate of the world rests in our hands- and perhaps this is why we can be so divided in terms of religion and politics.

    I’m called to tend this corner of the world I’m in, good or bad. When I’m living out Christ’s love with those around me, the world will change but it really has nothing to do with my small-minded version of love and everything to do with the transforming love He’s demonstrated for us.

    1. “it really has nothing to do with my small-minded version of love and everything to do with the transforming love He’s demonstrated for us.” Beautiful insight. Thanks Leigh.

  6. I so want to sit with you over coffee to discuss all these things! You raise such great questions.

    There is so much biblical tension in this question. We are to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19-10), but also lead a quiet life (1 Th 4:11). We are to work hard in all that we do for it is the Lord we are serving (Col 3:23-24) yet be good stewards of our talents (Mt 25).

    I think so much of this relates to using our gifts, and to use an evangelical cliche, “blooming where we have been planted.” For so long, the church had a narrow focus of what changing the world meant- being a missionary to some far off place. I love the way that is changing.

    P.S. Can I tell you that you are “changing the world”? You are using your talent with words to help others think about what matters most. (And that doesn’t even count the importance of motherhood.)

    1. You are so kind Stephanie. Thank you. And I think that was the big thing that tripped me up too–“the narrow focus of what changing the world meant.” I felt that very strongly as a teenager with the whole “missions” thing, and feel it somewhat now with social justice.

  7. This is one of those lessons that smolders at the edges of one’s soul until everything goes up in flames. I know.

    It’s taken me years to be turned inside out. To realize that my desire to do big things partly resides in me wanting to make a name for myself. To learn that small and everyday doesn’t mean lukewarm and complacent.

    Sometimes, being faithful with the small things is the most radical thing we can do. (HT to this post.)

    Loved everything about this, Addie.

    1. Years? Your picture, Kelly, belies that my years outnumber yours, and I’m struck on this, the day after my 55th birthday, that I’ve yet to be “turned inside out” on the “do big things” mantra of my generation. So, with 5 specific lessons of rejection and anonymity in my wake, and one more coming (I can see its swell rising on the horizon of my ocean), God is walking me a step closer to true release from the need to sense His love and respect by my “making a name for myself.” It seems that my descent into obscurity, rung by rung down the ecclesiastical corporate ladder, is my Father’s mystery unfolding toward: “Neal, my grace in you is enough for Me. If only it was enough for you.”

      1. I would say the “big things mantra” is not just your generation, but American culture in general, and church culture as well. There’s this idea of doing “great things for the Lord,” when really, what he requires the small, hard, work of faith and love. (Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly…) I love how you said it: “My grace in you is enough fro me. If only it was enough for you.” Gave me chills.

        (P.S. Happy birthday!)

    2. Thanks so much Kelly. It’s so good to realize that it’s not really about
      “making a name for myself”; harder, I find, to live daily and moment-by-moment in the light of that Truth.

  8. I remember when my former pastor asked me to play in a “praise band” and I stood before 400 or so people playing guitar with a really loud PA and kids jumping and bouncing to the music we were making, and I basically thought “this is my big break”.

    Then I remember the time, 3 years or so later, when that band played a local gig of some sort and I was not invited. Hurt like hell. STILL hurts. Deeply.

    I sit at a piano nearly every Sunday morning before something between 30 and 40 people, and play for them to sing hymns. There are no drums, there are no loud guitars, and there sure as heck are not any jumping teenagers. There are only a few teenagers, period, and while they might jump to some kinds of music, that’s just not the stuff we do.

    That piano is almost the only reach that my music has. Yeah, I’ve got to play a wedding in a couple of weeks (gulp), but there are no gigs. There is no band.

    And, yeah, it feels really small. Those days you mention, yeah, they slip away like lightning down the bark of an unwitting tree. I invest into two beautiful kids that rarely seem to appreciate or understand the effort involved, and it genuinely seems that all my opportunities to “accomplish something for God” are gone.

    But, wait – like you say – that’s not even what we should be aiming for, is it? 🙂

    “Go into all the world and make disciples” really isn’t quite what we sometimes make it out to be, I believe. That’s a BIG PICTURE command, one to be accomplished over centuries and with millions of people. It’s not that any one of us should change the world, but that we should change whatever pieces of the world that God gives us the opportunity to touch.

    And we should be content, happy, satisfied, and blessed in doing that.

    Because all this “what have YOU done?” mentality takes the focus off the name of Jesus and puts it on us. And that sucks.

    1. I loved this response Bernard and the ways you shared your story. Thank you. I thought this was a particularly brilliant insight here: ““Go into all the world and make disciples” really isn’t quite what we sometimes make it out to be, I believe. That’s a BIG PICTURE command, one to be accomplished over centuries and with millions of people.” Thank you.

  9. Your refreshing post brings me back to a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks many years ago, and still does today. From my favorite saint, Therese of Lisieux: “Jesus does not require great actions of us, but only surrender and gratitude.”

  10. From John Calvin, Institutes bk III ch 10 para 6:
    The last thing to be observed is, that the Lord enjoins every one of us, in all the actions of life, to have respect to our own calling. He knows the boiling restlessness of the human mind, the fickleness with which it is borne hither and thither, its eagerness to hold opposites at one time in its grasp, its ambition. Therefore, lest all things should be thrown into confusion by our folly and rashness, he has assigned distinct duties to each in the different modes of life. And that no one may presume to overstep his proper limits, he has distinguished the different modes of life by the name of callings. Every man’s mode of life, therefore, is a kind of station assigned him by the Lord, that he may not be always driven about at random. So necessary is this distinction, that all our actions are thereby estimated in his sight, and often in a very different way from that in which human reason or philosophy would estimate them. There is no more illustrious deed even among philosophers than to free one’s country from tyranny, and yet the private individual who stabs the tyrant is openly condemned by the voice of the heavenly Judge. But I am unwilling to dwell on particular examples; it is enough to know that in every thing the call of the Lord is the foundation and beginning of right action. He who does not act with reference to it will never, in the discharge of duty, keep the right path. He will sometimes be able, perhaps, to give the semblance of something laudable, but whatever it may be in the sight of man, it will be rejected before the throne of God; and besides, there will be no harmony in the different parts of his life. Hence, he only who directs his life to this end will have it properly framed; because free from the impulse of rashness, he will not attempt more than his calling justifies, knowing that it is unlawful to overleap the prescribed bounds. He who is obscure will not decline to cultivate a private life, that he may not desert the post at which God has placed him. Again, in all our cares, toils, annoyances, and other burdens, it will be no small alleviation to know that all these are under the superintendence of God. The magistrate will more willingly perform his office, and the father of a family confine himself to his proper sphere. Every one in his particular mode of life will, without repining, suffer its inconveniences, cares, uneasiness, and anxiety, persuaded that God has laid on the burden. This, too, will afford admirable consolation, that in following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendour and value in the eye of God.

    1. Thanks for this profound reminder Chris. Of course “calling” is tough on certainty. I’ve fought my own heart on whether I was one, to use Jesus’ words, given 1 or 5 or 10 talents, and, therefore, what His expectations are for me in returning them to Him.
      I now live in an anonymous state, in a more anonymous town, and work in “the Christian Industry” in an anonymous role. But am I using my gifts well? Am I lazy? Am I unloving? Will I be held accountable for “hiding my light under a bushel?” On the other hand, have I already done enough? And in the end, is it not enough simply to have loved? To have lived graciously in light of the grace I’ve received? I ask for my own sake!

      1. Neal: maybe you were responding to something or someone else (Chris)? If not, my aim in the long Calvin quotation was that the calling to potty train a toddler, to cut up strawberries, to fold laundry that will just get unfolded dirty and need to be laundered yet again, to keep one brother from scratching the face off the younger brother–that calling has “a splendor and value in the eye of God.” I’m pretty egalitarian; I don’t see that calling as lower than the calling to cross-cultural evangelism or to being a pastor or to whatever else some of us grew up thinking the more noble, more God-honoring callings.

        1. Eric, apologies for addressing you as “Chris.” I’m not sure where that came from!
          In any case, I appreciated greatly the Calvin quote and my heart resonates with the sentiment. Thanks for the follow-up…

  11. Addie,
    This one really hit home today. Thank you. I’ve been thinking a lot of about lots of things this week (human trafficking, child labor, the fact that my little girl’s cute dresses are made by another little girl that won’t ever get to wear one, the fact that our food supply is so genetically engineered we aren’t even eating what we are eating anymore, and the political motivations that drive most of the above, and how it feels sometimes like that world is too big to change). And then I’ve been thinking about this one little life that I’m raising. And I’m wondering what other lives I can impact, and she will impact. And then I am thinking about how the spider web all that creates is bigger than our part of of it. So, the little is big in some ways. Thanks for bringing me “back” to the basics (and to Acquire the Fire and Urbana for a moment too!). 🙂

    1. It’s definitely a lot. I feel this tension too and I love what you said about the spider web of impact. (Also, I loved that you recognized the ATF vibe. Ha!)

  12. So here’s what’s crazy, and could be called the “lowest common denominator” of my new approach to the change the world calling…
    What if we, during our little lives, humbly, but intentionally loved one person who met Jesus, was found by Him, and then they did the same with their life. What would happen to the world? Something big or something small?
    When Jesus gave the “…make disciples…” command, there was no travel or communications technology. Yet He believed the world could and would be reached by plain people. That’s still true, but the introduction of that same “advancement,” while creating avenues of connection unimagined by 1st century followers, has actually disengaged us from real relationship, truth, grace, love, and collective ownership of Jesus’ call. Our christian professionalism has refuted the truth of the priesthood of every believer. Our event-oriented “conversionism” (both of the arena variety, and the alter-call/sinner’s prayer kind) has seeped quietly into our hearts and we’ve devalued the love that we all have to give to the anonymous hearts in our lives.

  13. Goodness, can I tell you: I’m 28. I just finished cutting up strawberries and putting away toys. Got peed on in the last half-hour.

    I’m warmed through with the knowledge that I’m not the only one caught in the tension between “bigness and smallness.”

    I’m not sure how I ended up at your blog, but I’m super-glad I did. This really spoke to me (and will continue to do so), and I’m definitely subscribed. 🙂

    1. That is so funny! We’re kindred spirits, apparently. 🙂 So glad you found your way here, and thanks so much for subscribing.

  14. I just loved this, Addie. I have been thinking a lot recently about the rhetoric of ‘changing the world’ in evangelical circles. I think for my (our) generation, evangelicalism was also intertwined in Carpe Diem-ism (remember Dead Poets Society?) In Britain, Krish Kandiah recently wrote thoughtfully about how many of our generation had been disappointed by the lack of preparation at the stag of our youth groups about about how to be a middle-aged Christian who hasn’t changed the world – I wonder if things are beginning to change In that regard…

    I speak as someone who was in paid Christian ministry for a decade but is now housebound (bedbound for much of the time) due to an autoimmune disease. These are things that I am slowly having to work through…

    I love that quote from Brennan Manning and your last few paragraphs – you express it so beautifully.

    Peace out. 🙂

    1. Yes, I agree. It’s such a natural theme of our youth; we all feel it at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen…that desire to be MORE than our parents, than our small little worlds. It seems, of course, awfully convenient to align the Gospel to that and make Jesus that key that unlocks to door to our own greatness. The problem is, it’s just not true. I think your right…there is a lot of relearning, a lot of working through things, a lot of knots being untied.

        1. Loved your post Tanya! Thanks so much for linking to me. I’ve always struggled a little bit with that idea of living life as a story too, as so much of the moments that make it up are stuff that would be cut from the movie or the narrative as too mundane, too boring. (A fact thrown into even greater relief for me now that I have little kids.)

          I love the idea of life as a fragment of poetry. Life not necessarily as story, but as one beautiful line. Beautiful, beautiful Tanya. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Cool. I love finding people who have been feeling the same things. 🙂 Thanks for the note!

  15. So amazing and just what a mom / writer’s heart needed to heart today.

    If what I do the best is embody the love of God to these small ones and this one man and those in my main circle, then I am at peace with that. If what I do faithfully is love my neighbor well and speak what God puts on my heart, if my blog stays small, the book gets turned down and I am used small, then that’s okay.

    I have to be faithful with what he gives me, that is all he asks, well that and to die to myself… 😉

    1. “if the book gets turned down and I am used small, then that’s okay.” I am learning and re-learning this also, Leanne. I felt it from God early on while rocking my baby and stressing about social media. Something of a whisper: “What if your book has already done the work it was meant to do? Can you let it go?”

      Yes, like Judy said in her comment above: “We need to pray to be convinced that small is beautiful.”

  16. Hi there, I just came across your blog in the last day or so. Your post is amazingly honest and so much of what I feel to be true in my life right now. There are days when I want something much bigger for my life, when I think I could do something greater. When I stop and listen, I remember that all this raising toddler business is actually very big in the guise of everyday smallness. Thanks for another reminder.

  17. Wow. You put this so perfectly, like poetry with the power to work it’s way into my mind and then beyond, into my organs and cells:

    “As it turns out, my responsibility is not to change the world. It is to lean into the wild love of God. To be moved by it. To crawl into its bigness and find myself different there.”

  18. I do believe this hits at the central conflict within the heart of each of us: the lure of the spectacular faced by the reality of the everyday. But…I do believe the everyday is right where it’s at. If we are not faithful in the small things – by our own definition – than what matter the big? Mother Theresa and her famous quote come to mind…’small things done with great love’ – that’s what changes the world. That’s how the Spirit works in the world. Thanks for this beautiful reminder of that oh-so-important truth.

  19. Maybe part of our problem is rugged individualism.

    We’re told it is up to “you singular” to change the world. And what a burden that is, because to change the world alone, we first have to bestride it like a Colossus – or else be small and petty, destined for “dishonourable graves”.

    Today on TV I saw a remarkable creature of the deep, called a Sea Pen; made up of thousands of tiny individuals. It anchors itself on the sea floor, it reaches out to the flowing currents for nourishment, it spreads itself out and folds itself up, sinking back into the sand. Somehow, each tiny individual knows what to do, some tiny thing in its tiny space, to make the whole thing work.

    Addie: what you do is not ‘small’. I think your posts are an anchor to more people than you know…Hardly a day goes by when your words from an ocean and a continent away, do not make a difference for me; and I share them often with those I love. In these ripples of connection, and of difference, the Kingdom unfurls, the currents flow, and the world can be changed.

    1. Thanks, Sally, for this incredibly insightful comment. I love the imagery of the Sea Pen, and the way you wrote it was so beautiful.

      Thanks also for your kind words about the posts. It means a lot to me.

  20. Addie,
    It bothers me at times when I day dream of being a hero. For I know full well doing something courageous or difficult to be a real hero might actually be easier than doing the mundane and the minutiae day in and day out without knowing the true effect of it all. I often ask myself If God put me on this rock for only one thing; for example if I was only here to help move one person closer to accepting Him would I be ok with that? If I am only here to encourage others without anyone knowing can I do that. Then I ask why would I not be ok with that. Should I not desire to do that which God wants me to do when He wants me to do it regardless even if I feel it is all so insignificant.
    One of my favorite all time quotes that I know is so true helps me to beat down the hero complex that grips me and this is it: “Sometimes when I consider what tremendous consequences come from little things… I am tempted to think there are no little things.” — Bruce Barton

  21. I think we may be long lost sisters! I have that quote taped to the cupboard in the kitchen. I get so lost in the day to day with my boys (1 1/2 & 3 1/2) and feel like I don’t “do” anything. Thank you so much for this blog post! It is really encouraging!

  22. I believe the answer is in the Words of Christ. “Without me ye can do nothing.” The hype of Evangelical christianity has taken the focus of the Lord. It has taken the focus off a pure and seperated walk. And it has taken the focus off of the Biblical description of Godliness and Holiness.
    “Without me ye can do nothing.” The only thing that Christ gave us to do was “come unto me and I will give rest unto your souls.” All the “Christian Work” actually accomplished for God is done through submitted people… other than that there are a lot doing a whole bunch of “stuff” in hopes to get peoples attention and then say “it must be God”
    Leaving the hype is the right track, getting into the Word is the answer…
    I know, Addie, that’s a cliche you have mentioned so let me quote the Bible again, which I believe has the answer to activating that cliche. James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

  23. Addie, I went to the same conventions and bought into the same teachings, and in hindsight, they really did a number on me. I remember the internal struggle I experienced when I saw my future “life calling” shifting from an overseas missionary to a stay-at-home mom, and felt so selfish (when really, motherhood is the most SELFLESS calling in the world!) I remember feeling like I had let God down because I never helped bring a revival to my high school, just let my own light shine before my classmates in my own way as God saw fit — but that never seemed like it could possibly be enough. I remember a less-than-positive experience with a campus organization that I joined because I wanted to learn how to “share my faith” through random, take-campus-by-storm face-to-face evangelism, when really I had been sharing my faith all along, through long talks and honesty and slow, hard, messy, REAL relationships instead of forced spiritual conversations fueled by a desire to win “converts.” The idea of “changing the world” tries to force us into a mold into which we were never meant to fit and negates the little victories and acts of service in life that are often so much more important. Being faithful in the little things — picking up cheerios off the floor or just being a listening ear — can often mean so much more than leading a “world-changing” revival. Thank you so much for posting. Your entire blog is so honest and healing, and I really appreciate it 🙂

  24. This is my struggle at this particular moment. I love how you put it too…I feel most days that I’m the only one in my circles that feel like this, and its just one more thing that sets me apart. I am now 35, and for almost 10 mostly blissful years I felt like I was right in the center of what I was made for…and then it ended and I’ve been adrift ever since, constantly searching for that again. As a teenager I was constantly told I should be a missionary, or a teacher…and I bought into it. I just never felt brave enough to pull the trigger, and part of me thinks it was just this same misguided thought that as a Christian that was the only options to be a hero… It’s funny too because I don’t even dream those dreams anymore, but I feel like my life is just too small and insignificant at the moment…

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