Book a plane ticket or hop on a train to any foreign city, and I guarantee that no matter where you end up, you’ll find one thing - statues. These frozen figures dot cities all over the world serving as the centerpieces to roundabouts and forgotten park squares; an echo of forgotten conquests and honors achieved long ago. I find it amusing that at some point in history each of these heroes lived in a significant enough way to find themselves immortalized in stone, but their names and stories are so easily forgotten. I’ve passed countless unmarked statues, nameless faces staring down begging for attention and recognition to no avail. Passerbys carry on without a second thought - too busy building personal pedestals and laying the foundation for their own statues - hoping that they too can achieve something worthy of glorification. It’s an empty cycle. We crave significance and long for fame. Unaware that there is another way to live, we get caught in the commotion of filling the world with statue after statue. What if we could build something bigger? Something more grand and lasting, awe inspiring and thought provoking, a monument of significance without hoarding the credit?
This weekend I visited the Notre Dame with a dear friend, Morgan. We marveled at its intricate architectural detail, and wandered its interior with mouths gaped in wonder and necks craned toward the lofty ceilings. It was a masterpiece, crafted to inspire wonder and awe. It magnitude and history struck me deep in my soul.
I have a thing for Catholic cathedrals. Each time I pass through the thresholds of one of these historical sanctuaries I am swept with a sense of comforting nostalgia. I feel at home among their flickering candles, the familiar hymns sung in unfamiliar languages, and worn wooden pews serving as a respite for weary traveling souls. Their familiarity reminds me of my childhood and the countless hours I spent closely examining the grand ceiling and stained glass of the church I grew up in, filled with wonder and curiosity at something much grander than myself.
As Morgan and I left Notre Dame, she talked about how meticulous a craft cathedral building once was. The process often spanned hundreds of years, and involved countless craftsmen, many which devoted their lives to the project knowing that they would never see the it to completion. Morgan spoke of a French teacher she had in high school who urged her class to find their cathedrals: something bigger than themselves, something they could spend their whole life working towards knowing that they may never see the project finished. We spoke about our own personal cathedrals, things that mattered to us enough to abandon the endeavor of erecting statues in our own name to pursue a life of cathedral construction.
It an admirable task - to give up on your chances to be the next big thing and be a tiny piece in something much bigger. There’s no insurance or money back guarantee, only faith and a hope that what your building will change the trajectory of the future. It’s a choice to invest so personally in the lives of people you will never have the chance to meet, and abandon your chances at glory in the trust that there is something better worth glorifying. This is the decision we make when we choose to live a life for Jesus.
It’s not a small decision; In exchange for our own fame, we are choosing to accept that the wonders of this world will never satisfy the longing of our souls. With this truth at the foundation of our lives, we step off our man-made pedestals and find the stability that comes from standing on solid ground, humble and rooted to a source of power that is eternal and unchanging. Following Jesus is a continuous decision to put his glory before our own, and get our hands dirty in the unpretentious work of building a cathedral that points to the heavens.
I think it’s a sacrifice my soul longs to make. Constructing a carefully crafted self-image in pursuit of the world’s approval is not only exhausting, but unrelenting. I have found myself riding recognition like a high, crashing hard without it and allowing its fickle praise determine my wellbeing. In times that I feel I am not enough, I slip into a place of perceived scarcity, stuck in the hostility of anxiety and self-doubt. In the seasons that I feel like I have it all together, I still find “work” to be done. I’m learning that the race to build my own statue is tiring and unfulfilling with the costs outweighing benefits by a landslide.
I want to go all in on the cathedrals that God is building in my life; to toss the approval of the world aside, and pick up the deep sense of belonging that comes from knowing the Lord. When we team up with what God is doing in this world, the pressure of what we are doing gives way to the power of how we are doing it. Building God’s kingdom isn’t a job title or a bullet point on a resume but a posture of the heart, and it’s one we can take regardless of where we are. In seasons of plenty or in times of need, with loved ones or surrounded by strangers, in classrooms and office buildings, churches and grocery stores: the way we live our life becomes our work. I want to live a life that points to the heavens, to be filled with a joy that is not bound to circumstances, and love people without expecting recognition in return.
We may never see the impact that choosing to love others has on this side of eternity, but that’s part of the gig when you’re building a cathedral. Devoting your life to something bigger than yourself means that the grandiose and richness of its fulfillment can’t possibly be contained in the brevity of a single lifetime. Hundreds of years later, we don’t remember the names of those who labored sincerely to build cathedrals, but their work has stood the test of time. I don’t know how many hands it took and how many hours they spent laying brick after brick, carving stone and bending iron, but I feel a deep sense of gratitude for them - for their devotion to my experience of wonder, for the hours and years and centuries spent knowing that one day someone like me would have an encounter with the Lord within the walls that they gave their life to build.
Look up, my friend. If you’re still building, don’t be discouraged. Find your cathedral, and work earnestly knowing that your success is independent of your achievement, and the impact you are leaving on this earth is more profound than you may ever know. Rest in the fullness of life, trading your glory for a love more lasting than statues and further fulfilling than fame.