The first volume of the very first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was published in 1884. The Philological Society of London had already been working on the idea of a new, more complete catalog of words for nearly 25 years when they finally reached a publishing arrangement with Oxford University Press. The Society estimated in 1879 that the completed work would fill four volumes, and would take them about 10 years to complete. Five years later, halfway to their proposed deadline, they had completed one volume, which covered words from “A” to “Ant.” Obviously, they had a long way to go! In the end, the first edition would total 10 volumes for a total of 15,490 pages. And rather than the 10 years the writers originally thought, it would require 70 years to complete – a lifetime in that day and age.
The creators of the OED had a vision far too small for the ambitious project they were undertaking. I think the same could be said of many of us. What great potential are we underestimating in our own lives? An old Yiddish proverb says that men make plans and God laughs. I always imagine this as God laughing with delight in the knowledge that even our biggest dreams are not big enough when God is involved. “Oh, it gets a lot better than that,” I hear God saying. But too often, God’s is not the voice we most readily hear. The voices of laziness and fear try to tell us to hold back, play it safe. “The less you risk, the less chance that you will be disappointed,” they tell us. Of course, there is also less chance that we will succeed at anything that matters.
This past Sunday, like most Sundays, my pastor closed the service with a benediction that has become fairly popular in the past few years. It is attributed to Rev. William Sloane Coffin, and is a fitting prayer for all of us who are tempted to think too small about what God might have planned for us:
“May God give you grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, grace to remember that the world now is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.” Amen.-- Chaplain Stacy N. Sergent