If you could convey a message to young women stepping out into a big world, what would you say?
This question was posed to me three years ago when I was asked to write a letter to women preparing to graduate. I thought long and hard about what to say. Looking back on what I wrote, I clearly didn’t do the subject justice, but maybe that’s an impossible task. Would I change what I wrote? Possibly. (If you’re interested, you can read the letter here: Letter to a Young Woman) While I may have stumbled through the task, something at the end of the letter still stands out as important.
We live in a big world with big possibilities and the possibility of making it big in the world holds big allure. Bigness impresses us. We aspire to big things. We celebrate big achievements. We follow people who’ve made it big, and pay big money to chase what they’ve got. Bigger is better, we hear.
Smallness, on the other hand, does not as easily impress us. Given the chance to inspire those perched on the precipice of change, we don’t often encourage them to think small, live small, or stay small. Small things can seem boring, mundane, insignificant.
When I stepped out into the world in the mid 90s, I was (metaphorically) a small girl, from a small town, taking small steps into a world that was bigger than what I’d known, but still smaller than it seems today. I had never been on the internet or heard of email. (I remember how, in my third year of University, a friend wanted to help me set up a Hotmail account, and I was sure he was leading me into the dark side of the world wide web because ‘hot’ mail did not sound safe to me!)
I stepped out of my small world into a bigger one, taking small steps forward. Yes, some of the steps forward came after falling giant steps backward, but in my small world, there were people who played big roles. People whose worlds were small enough that they could see when someone stumbled beside them, something big people living big lives sometimes miss. But more than that, there was a big God writing His big story with my small life.
So how would I help young women navigate the tension we all feel between wanting big lives but living small ones? Maybe I would point them to the story of a prostitute. Don’t freak out, it’s okay to keep reading. The Bible includes the fascinating story of a prostitute who, though she lived a small life, had her eyes open for the chance at something big.
Her name was Rahab and you can read most of her story in the second chapter of Joshua. Because she was a prostitute, Rahab was pretty low on the social ladder even if she was in high demand. She had a house in the city wall, a section of town reserved for poorer people, and because of how her occupation and location coincided, it’s likely she was running an inn. Rahab’s small world would have been filled with people coming and going and telling stories.
Now here’s the thing, hearing all the stories she did, Rahab could have listened selectively. She could have thought the only way to escape her small life for a bigger one, was to listen for big stories of big people. Rahab had men in her life. She could have taken what she heard and used it to get to or manipulate powerful men and she could have thrown away the rest.
But she didn’t. As Rahab listened to the stories and pieced together what she heard, she was looking for something bigger than a man. Rahab was listening for and looking for the bigger story of God. So with her eyes and ears open in the ordinary-ness of life, she recognized the big story when she heard it.
Rahab heard about the Hebrews, and how their God dried up the water of the Red Sea and brought them out of Egypt. She heard how kings and nations were defeated by this seemingly small people. Rahab knew that it wasn’t the greatness of the people that brought them success, but the greatness of their God.
On the day two Hebrew spies came to her inn, she knew it was time for a small person to do something big. Rahab hid them and ended up getting the attention of the king of Jericho. In a pivotal moment when she had the attention of the king, she didn’t sell herself to appease him, instead she risked her life to defy him because her view of God was bigger than her view of the king.
I know that the LORD has given you the land . . . for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Joshua 2:8, 11
Rahab lived her ordinary life listening for and looking for God. When God and His people showed up in her city, she was ready and available to play a role in His story. We don’t hear much more about Rahab after this. But, (another big one!) this small woman with a big view of God pops up again in a very significant place in Scripture.
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. Matthew 1:5
Pretty neat, isn’t it? Rahab went on to marry one of the Hebrew men she played a hand in rescuing, and had a family. She lived an ordinary life raising kids who grew up, got married, and started their own families. Then, in a series of small events only a big God can string together, Rahab’s son, Boaz, marries a woman who is also an outsider, their line continues, and Rahab ends up being the great, great, grandmother of King David. Tracing the line even further, we see that the woman who didn’t sell out to gain the favour of a temporary king, ended up in the genealogy of the eternal King all because she let her small life be written by a big God.
Does a big God sometimes call small people to do big things? Yes! But only when they have a right knowledge of who’s big and who isn’t. Is bigger always badder and smaller always safer? No. As long as we’re not confused about who’s big.
God is big. His story is big and it’s all about filling up this world with the incomprehensible bigness of His glory. It’s a big plan that turns on small things and small people who have a big view of Him.
So what would I say to someone stepping out into a big world? Don’t be tempted into becoming a big person if it means you serve a small god. Be content to stay small and serve a big God. A God who inhabits the vastness of eternal time and space but came as a baby. Live well in your small world with your ears and eyes open for a big God. Because the biggest things have the smallest beginnings.