Our Little Work at the Edges of the Stars

For the past few months, I’ve been participating in women’s leadership school with my church. Each week we have readings and teaching on different topics — the Trinity, evangelism, friendship, etc. This past week was focused on the Sabbath. You may remember that I’ve blogged before about my growing love for keeping the Sabbath, which is decidedly my favorite commandment, though I’ve only come to appreciate it in the past few years. [Maybe having a favorite commandment is weird, but I love this one because I have a terrible tendency to picture God as one who tsk-tsks me about all the work I haven’t finished yet. (This is primarily because I tend to tsk-tsk myself about all the work I haven’t finished yet, and then I attribute it to him.) The Sabbath commandment reminds me that the call of God is not a call to work harder.]

Last week, in prep for teaching on the Sabbath, we read a chapter of Andy Crouch’s book Playing God. One sentence struck me in such a way that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. I found myself rereading it each morning this week before starting my day:

I made this image to use as my computer wallpaper this week. (The background is taken from the Hubble photo of Andromeda!) To download the full version for your computer, click here!

I made this image to use as my computer wallpaper this week. (The background is taken from the Hubble photo of Andromeda!) To download the full version for your computer, click here!

“At the edges of the vast fields of stars we do our little work, sowing what we could never have provided for ourselves and harvesting what we have not sown.”

What a sentence. 

It reminded me of two things — first, of a Hubble Space Telescope photo I’d seen circulating on the Internet a couple of months ago. At 1.5 billion pixels, the composite photo was heralded as the largest ever pieced together. It showed what Crouch had described: a vast field of stars — literally 100 million of them — a chunk of Andromeda, the galaxy next door. (Apparently we can photograph Andromeda because it is a mere 2.5 million light-years away.) Though enormous, it is tiny in the scheme of things — one of more than 100 billion galaxies in the universe. 100 BILLION.

Second, the sentence reminded me of Isaiah 40, which I used to read over and over again in grad school. (When you’re seeing the world wrong, Isaiah 40 will correct you, and if you’re stressed, you’re seeing the world wrong, so naturally grad school lent itself to this chapter.) Here's a snippet, but you kind of have to read the whole chapter to get the full effect:

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? …. ‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.”

I can’t wrap my head around the idea that there is a being big enough to call forth 100 million stars by name — just in that one snippet of one neighbor galaxy. Or, crazier still, that there are 100 billion other galaxies that we know of whose stars he also calls forth by name. When I think about it, I feel positively microscopic. Infinitesimal.

It’s tempting to call this sense of my own smallness disorienting. Give me a glimpse at another galaxy, and suddenly I lose my frame of reference. But, in truth, I think it’s the opposite. Recognizing the vastness of the universe is actually reorienting. It causes me to realize I’ve been seeing things all wrong. When my perspective is corrected, I realize I’m far smaller than I like to pretend. When my perspective is corrected, I feel compelled to get down on my knees, to get down in the dust where I belong.

Until now I’ve loved the Sabbath for its reminder of the gospel truth that my work isn’t that important. Everything that ever really needed to get done got done — 2,000 years ago. It’s okay — nay, good! — to take a day off specifically to rest in the completed work of Christ. It’s okay if the laundry waits until Monday. The Lord’s got stuff under control. The world will keep spinning even if my washing machine doesn’t.

But I think I’m only now beginning to realize that the gospel changes more than just the significance of my work. It changes the scope of my work and the purpose of my work, too. What is huge to me is tiny to the Lord. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter to him; it just means that it’s not daunting to him. The projects that seem so overwhelming to me, so beyond what I am capable of, are dust in the dust in the dust of his hands. I do my little work at the edges of his vast fields of stars, and just the act of working — of using the gifts he’s given me — is glorifying to him.

I got the crazy idea a few months ago to write a book — not for the sake of writing a book (that sounds miserable) but because a book had started to write itself in my head without my consent. While I was still in the I-kind-of-want-to-do-this-but-don’t-think-I-have-what-it-takes stage, other people who didn’t even know about the book in my brain started telling me to write a book about the very topic I couldn’t shake. So I started writing it. Even though I’m working full-time. Even though it feels like a freaking huge undertaking.

(I’m almost hesitant even to mention my fetus of a book on the Internet. I’ve read both that you should never tell people that you’re writing a book because then they’ll see you fail and that you should always tell people you’re writing a book because the accountability will force you to finish. So I won’t tell you a lot, but I will tell you that I’m working on it and that that’s part of the reason I have been less present on this blog as of late. Oh, also, it’s nonfiction, and, no, it’s not about grammar. I’ve talked to a fair number of people about this book in real life, so it’s not exactly a secret, but this is all the info the Internet gets for now.)

Here’s the thing, though, about me and book-writing: I feel compulsion and fear in equal measure. On one hand, I want to write this book. I think maybe I’m supposed to write it — or at least supposed to try. On the other hand, I don’t think I have what it takes. I could potentially spend years researching and reading and writing and, one day down the road, realize I’ve gotten myself in way over my head. Nothing about this undertaking feels like a sure thing.

This week, though, as I thought about the true scope and purpose of my work, I found myself worrying less about how this project will turn out. I found myself focusing instead on two things: first, that a book is not big to the God who spoke 100 billion galaxies into existence and calls their stars by name, and, second, that God never asked me for a book in the first place. He never looked at me and asked me for results or a finished product of any kind. He only asked me to be faithful with the gifts that he has blessed me with, to steward the seeds and the land that he has lent to me.

If I base my willingness to be faithful on the likelihood that my faithfulness will result in fruitfulness, I’m not being faithful at all. So I will write. I will spend my early mornings working on what may, in a few years, turn into a book or what may, in a few years, end up on an extra hard drive in a desk drawer, never to be printed, bound, or read. And I will trust that the willingness to use my gifts is honoring to God. I will trust that he is glorified by my little work at the edges of his vast fields of stars, even though he doesn’t need my crops.