rebelling against low expectations

“It’s Hard to Be Nobody”: What to do When You Feel Useless


Have you ever felt useless?

I have. Over the past few months, I’ve struggled deeply with this feeling of uselessness. The question keeps coming up:

What do you do in quiet seasons?

I’ve had several quiet seasons in my life recently: in-between times when I felt I was at a crossroad. I was never bored, but I wasn’t running from one thrillingly important thing to another, either.

And being only nineteen made it difficult. Some people expect you to be doing exciting things and charging into the future. They say it’s the best time of your life, the start of everything– but for me, it was quiet.

Quiet and hard.

As I struggled with this last year, a dear friend took me out for coffee and shared some of her wisdom. She told me how they moved from a busy lifestyle to our little town several years ago and asked the Lord how he wanted them to serve him now.

His reply was simple. “Just park—and be there for the needy. Just park—and be ready with a shoulder for those who hurt. Just park—and do whatever I ask you to do, insignificant as it may seem to you.”

My friend looked at me and said what I’d been feeling. “It’s very hard to be ‘nobody.’”

Yes. In our society everyone makes sure to post and share the best of their achievements, the highest of their highs. Have you ever seen a photo with the caption, “Scrubbing toilets for my dad. #TotalAwesomeness!”?

No, neither have I.

In a world like this, the quiet times can be the hardest. But I have learned that these seasons are also a blessing, because then you can be available, in a position to serve and love where it’s needed.

I’ve seen this often in my own life. Being in a quiet season means I can clean the kitchen when we have people for dinner and save my mom the effort. It means I can give six hours to help a friend with the catering at a funeral service. It means I’m available to babysit or go visit people.

These things seem unimportant—but, honestly, how does one really define importance? I think God is far more concerned with how we do things than what we do. He would rather we wash dishes with a heart of love and joy than win international music contests with a right bad attitude.

Finding my true worth

In April, after several quiet, in-between months, I went to do my Discipleship Training School (DTS). God worked a lot in me, and showed me how much I had come to determine my value by what I do—or don’t. He had to change the way I saw myself, and it was a tearful journey with lots of healing that had to happen.

God kept asking me, “Can you believe that even if you do nothing apart from just being, you still have huge value to me? You’re valuable not because of what you do, but because of who, and whose, you are.

Then I went to Brazil to do my ten-week practical outreach, and God continued to teach me that lesson—even more intensively.

I had a meltdown after three weeks of outreach: I was crying because I felt so useless. I didn’t take my violin on outreach (for logistical reasons); I’m not a singer; and there were three better pianists than me in our team, so I couldn’t be part of our musical worship team. I enjoyed singing and dancing with the rest of the group, but I missed violin. I used to serve and bless others with my music, and I really missed that.

Because of the language barrier, I couldn’t just talk to people and connect with them as I would have loved to. That meant I could “only” serve by smiling, hugging, helping and playing with the kids.

God showed me, though, that that kind of service is not less than leading worship or preaching. He showed me that it, too, is incredibly valuable.

And by stripping me of my music “shelter”, the Lord taught me more about myself. “You’re more than a muso,” God told me. “You’re good at other things too, like preaching and loving people; at embracing this culture and entering in. Don’t limit yourself and your talents to just one thing.”

Real love

That (painful) process, and also the privilege of watching the amazing people of Brazil live life, taught me a lot about real, practical love. The kind of love that serves others. The kind of love where you sit with people and bless them by being there. The kind of love that focuses on relationships and invests in people—rather than just checking stuff off a to-do list.

That’s the kind of love where you don’t need to speak the language. Most of the Brazilians couldn’t speak any English, but they made us feel so loved by what they did rather than by what they said. It’s so easy to declare our love for others—but when push comes to shove, do we show love as well as we should?

Jesus displayed real, practical love to those around him. And he spent a lot of his time just being with people—investing in them, serving them and cultivating relationships.

Over the past year, and especially during my time in Brazil, God has really been bringing me to a place where there is so little of me left that he can shine through with ease. He has been stripping me of everything I feverishly cling to because it makes me feel important and useful. Through that, he has taught me more about myself, real love and himself.

It’s been painful, but it’s so worth it, and it’s been so beautiful to walk this journey with him.

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About the author

Jeanette van As

stands on nothing but the grace of her Father. She’s a South African ministry kid, homeschool graduate, and lover of music, reading, writing and all things Celtic. She blogs at Only By Grace

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By Jeanette van As
rebelling against low expectations

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