Appropriate smallness – dream small


Cookie Cockatoo, last surviving member of Brookfield Zoo’s original collection.

“Humility is the freedom to stop trying to be what we’re not, or pretending to be what we’re not, and accepting our ‘appropriate smallness.’ “- John Ortberg

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?’ . . .  The King will reply, ‘Truly, I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ “- Matthew 25:27-38, 40 (NIV)

When Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo opened July 1, 1934, Cookie Cockatoo first went on exhibit.  Cookie, a Major Mitchell’s cockatoo, arrived earlier that year from an Australian zoo in Sydney.  He’d hatched in June of 1933. Years later, on Cookie’s 60th birthday, a Chicago Tribune story took note: “Like some cockeyed vaudevillian comic in a loud suit and funny hat, Cookie  . . . always has relied on exaggerated showiness and a raucous line of patter to attract attention.”

Even in his final years, Cookie retained the beautiful plumage typical of his species.  However, in 2009 he began showing signs of stress while on public display.  As a result, the zoo retired him backstage in the his keeper’s offices, located in the Bird and Reptile House.  There, Cookie did a complete turnaround and became very active.  On August 27, 2016, Cookie died at the record age of 83+.

At age 76, Cookie’s life revitalized through appropriate smallness.  As Cookie served a small group in hiddenness, he experienced renewed vigor and purpose.  Writing in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, John Ortberg underscores that the primary reason Jesus calls us to serve. Jesus’ concern mainly involves what happens to us when we serve.  It’s secondary  that others need our service.

Consequently, Pastor Ortberg outlines four ministries that help us explore and revision avenues of servanthood that help us taste appropriate smallness:

1.  The Ministry of the Mundane.  The opportunity to serve naturally, effortlessly, for the joy of it presents itself to us countless times a day.  Furthermore, Jesus’ statement that the last shall be first, and the least shall be great wasn’t an order.  Rather, Jesus simply described the truth about God’s kind of community.  It operates counter to the prevailing world view.

2.  The Ministry of Being Interrupted.  One might also call this form of service the ministry of availability.  The Russian church refers to people who devote themselves to a life of prayer as poustinikki.  They withdraw to the desert (poustinia) where they live in solitude, but not isolation.   The ‘latch always off the door’ availability occurs in the midst of solitude.

3.  The Ministry of ‘Holding Your Tongue.’  Coined by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, this describes perhaps the least-practiced form of servanthood: “Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. . . .  It must be a decisive rule of Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.”

4.  The Ministry of Bearing.  In conclusion, John stresses that our call to bear each other’s burdens doesn’t require becoming best friends.  Instead, it means we learn to wish them well and release our right to revenge.  Thus, we come to experience our common standing before the Cross.

About the author

Dave Henning


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