The Humility of Being Replaceable

Spiritual Oxygen pin

Early in my law enforcement career, I was assigned to an office in an economically depressed part of Indiana. I recall going out on one particular raid with fellow agents and police in a rundown housing project. When we barreled through the front door of this dingy apartment, there were small children sleeping on a ragged couch in the living room. The spectacle of a dozen or more police and Federal agents with guns, vests, and a battering ram was apparently nothing new or terribly alarming to them. They never even flinched.

Fast forward 20+ years and I was in Chicago, going out on a raid with another dozen agents and police in a similar rundown housing project. Again, we barreled through the front door to discover small children sleeping on yet another nasty couch. Again, they didn’t flinch. And it hit me: Nothing had changed except the passage of time and the particular apartment. We were still doing what we were doing and little children were still growing up numb to their sad, dangerous circumstances.  

The person we were there to arrest that day in Chicago was in his mid-20s, which meant he could have been one of those children sleeping on the couch in Indiana 20 or so years earlier. No doubt, 20 years later another group of agents and cops will be experiencing pretty much the same phenomenon in yet another housing project with different unfortunate children as witnesses.

I began to wonder if the impact of my law enforcement career was the equivalent of putting my hand in a bucket of water and pulling it out.

We all do a lot of what we do because we are desperate for a huge gulp of significance, right? I mean, who wants to waste their one and only life?

Some of the biggest decisions I’ve made (and some of my biggest mistakes) have been in pursuit of doing something meaningful with my life. I sometimes struggled to figure out where to find that spiritual oxygen Dallas Willard refers to above. Many times I second-guessed myself and wondered about my choices. Perhaps you can relate.

Like many young people, I graduated college with outrageous idealism for a road map. Over the years, my concept of what really mattered changed. It became both clearer and a lot more complex.

Before the FBI, I held jobs in advertising, public relations, promotions, special events, and association management. I was able to be imaginative, raise funds for important causes, manage budgets, and have great life experiences. I thought that was meaningful (and to an extent, it was).

When I joined the FBI, I felt I had found the ultimate in both creativity and significance: complicated cases to solve, values like justice and honor to uphold, the opportunity to influence society in a positive way, and the chance to do it all in an intellectually and physically challenging work environment . . . just wow.

I never took for granted how fortunate I was to have that career. The bonds of friendship formed by facing down evil with people you trust – that’s rarely experienced outside of law enforcement and the military, as anyone who has been there will tell you.

But let’s be honest, in the overall scheme of things, my lasting impact in any of the jobs I held or cases I worked was pretty negligible. That realization had hit me like a brick that day in the Chicago housing project. Looking back, I can say that certainly there were times when my involvement was important to the success of a project or perhaps even the safety of another. But in all of that, I was completely replaceable and that’s humbling.

Here’s a hard truth: If you live long enough, your life will probably include plenty of potholes, detours and apparent dead ends. You’ll have to come up with your share of workarounds. Sometimes you, too, will feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over and you’ll question the point of it all. (Have you seen the movie, “Groundhog Day”?)

But finding meaning requires discovering spiritual oxygen: truth that keeps you going and gives you confidence that your life has value no matter what. For me, it comes from my Creator and my unique relationship with Him, as well as from the relationships He has given me to steward.

Who I am to my family and friends, to the people I love and care about, and those I am personally called to serve; that’s where I’m irreplaceable. How I build into them and the daily investment I make in the eternal purposes of God on this earth gives life to my soul. The way He inspires me to connect with Him in all this is what bestows significance and brings me hope.

There are thousands of association managers, public relations specialists, advertising copywriters, FBI agents, and writers. All are important on some level … and ultimately, all are replaceable. I’ve come to understand that it isn’t how I make my living but how I live my life – in humble dependence on God – that really matters.

I want to breathe the spiritual oxygen of being in relationship with the true Irreplaceable One who alone can rescue His sleeping children. How about you?

About Diane Rivers

Diane is a native Floridian whose career as an FBI Agent got her transferred to the North. She's retired from that gig now and "repurposed" as a freelance writer, author, and sometimes poet who blogs about the bumpy, bone-jostling ride of her “workaround” life. She loves Jesus, her family, black coffee, kayaking, biking, and hiking, and she looks forward to eternity with the One who will make all things beautiful. (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

8 thoughts on “The Humility of Being Replaceable”

  1. G+ this one. Another profound truth by a favorite blogger. Somehow the mystery of humility leads to the allowance of God to make infinitely more value of us that what we do with our own self-appointed self-esteem. May we all rise up again and again to the Divinely given ascents. Losing self-esteem saves us the infinite opportunity cost of grasping onto it.

    1. Yes, self-appointed self-esteem always falls short of the value God sees in us. Such a good observation. And I like your comment about how losing self-esteem saves us the infinite opportunity cost of grasping onto it. Well said. Thanks, Mike for adding to the conversation.

      1. You know what this conversation reminded me of? It reminded me of the confidence song in Sound of Music, and how I think confidence is really what we’re looking for in assigning self-esteem (which too often means the deadly sin of pride, entitlement, and related species).

        I think of Maria marching and dancing her way to the Captain’s estate, and I have to laugh. I know some people may find that movie makes their toes curl but I miss those innocent, wonderful films. “Singing in the Rain” is another, although with some dark clouds in it too. So back to Sound of Music, Andrews starts singing, “I have confidence in sunshine!” and that is somehow transforming.

  2. Diane: You made a difference! Imagine for a moment if you and the rest DIDN’T do what we did, how much worse might it have been. Always know, you have made a difference in ALL aspects of your life, believe me. By the way you better frame this.

    1. Thanks, big bro. You’re right <--(frame that). Still, there is such humility in knowing that if I hadn't done it, someone else would have. But I am unique and irreplaceable to God (as are you) and to the people He put in our lives to love and serve. That's where true significance lies and that is life-giving (and humbling) to me.

  3. Thanks for this. It reminds me of a comment by a PhD student who was trying to balance a dissertation and her young children: “I am pretty sure my dissertation will not be there to hold my hand as I die.” I think you are wise to look to our Creator for final fulfillment. Thanks for the post.

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