When my phone displayed the name of my friend and former pastor on the caller ID late Saturday night, I figured he was calling about some of the global missions fundraising work we are doing together. His news left me speechless.
A woman we have both known for decades, a long-time member of his church as well as a long-time resident in one of our apartment communities, had been tragically killed in a horrific automobile-pedestrian accident earlier that afternoon. Members of the church were looking for a way to get into her apartment to see to her cat and personal effects.
A Simple Woman
Charlotte was a simple woman. Due to some level of mental subnormality, she had always maintained a child-like persona, even into her early 60s. She loved kids, always volunteering in the nursery and supporting herself with nanny and babysitting jobs for people in the church. She didn’t have much family of her own, but she always seemed to be asking for prayer for a cousin or a nephew, a distant relative that needed healing or to find a relationship with Jesus.
I remember Charlotte as a member of our worship choir during my decade-long role as a music pastor. She wasn’t a great singer by any means, but we loved having her on the platform passionately worshipping Jesus. She was a tender heart, passionate to belong, and eager to help. Even recently, my mom would get the occasional text from her about a fellow passenger she had shared the Gospel with on the bus. Every one in a while, one of these conversations would lead to a prayer of faith and trust in Jesus.
We used to joke that Charlotte would probably have more jewels in her crown than any of us in eternity. Over the weekend, as I processed Charlotte’s death and what it means, I started thinking that probably wasn’t much of a joke at all.
What Does it Mean to Change the World?
We live in a culture that craves “changing the world” and “making your mark.” By their terms, no one is making any plans for a Charlotte Williams memorial statue or a multi-million dollar building with her name on it. And yet I have to wonder if she didn’t capture the essence of what Jesus calls success in this life.
Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni once wrote, “Most people don’t really want to change the world, they want to become known as the person who changed the world.” I think that reflects the manic pursuit of our times, the internal longing of human beings to matter and make a mark. And while the Creator most definitely asks us to partner with Him in the care and cultivation of His world, His creation already has a Savior. He’s looking for people who will be faithful to reflect Him, not try and take over for Him.
Humility, Dependence, and Trust
The world brokers in power and notoriety, Facebook likes, Instagram followers, and cultural leverage. The Lord values humility, dependence, and trust; people who will remain steady and faithful to Him for the long haul, even if they live in relative anonymity in this life.
I love this story of the poor widow from Luke 21:
“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” –Luke 21:1-4
We usually hear this verse in the context of financial generosity, but at the heart of Jesus’ story here is a reckless abandon, a childlike faith and trust that says “whatever I have and whatever I am I trust to God alone.”
Faithful and Obedient
No matter what assets we have – in money, in mental acuity, in relational resources – we are all called to a life of uncomplicated and complete trust in our Creator. I always felt this simple faith from Charlotte. Is it possible she really did change the world in exactly the way God designed her to?
Maybe you’re wrestling with your role in this life, with whether who you are or what you do really matters all that much. You see others making their mark, running large companies, speaking on huge platforms, writing books, closing deals, and splashing their press releases all over social media, and you think “what am I doing with my life anyway?”
Let Charlotte’s life encourage you. It’s not about how many “coins” you have, it’s about finding your identity in the finished work of Jesus and then faithfully and obediently following Him, multiplying whatever He has given you, great or small, to His glory and the good of those around you. You’re never anonymous to your Maker.
Charlotte Williams is not likely to have a statue of her commissioned in the town square, but I hope a bit of her simple faith lives on in anyone who reads this. Your life matters. Your work matters. Your contribution matters. Success isn’t being known, success is being faithful.
I can’t wait to see that crown Charlotte. I’m sure it’s a doozy. Rest in the peace and presence of Jesus, dear friend.