Finding our niche

The great British writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote a series of short stories about a parish priest, Father Brown, with a knack for forensics. This lowly priest investigated criminal cases while maintaining compassion and understanding toward the guilty.

In one episode, Father Brown gives some advice to a guilty individual who has climbed up into the church spire. He tells him: “You know, it can be dangerous when individuals place themselves in high places. Even to pray from a high place can be dangerous. Good people who allow themselves to gain a lofty opinion of themselves will begin to look down upon others and become judgmental towards others. Soon, they will feel comfortable with putting other people down verbally, and then they may even grow comfortable with criminal acts of violence. But humility is the mother of giants, and one can see great things down in the valley, in one’s rightful place.”1 After this, Father Brown tells the man that what he knows about him can remain confidential, but he asks him to take the path of honest repentance, to turn himself in.

In the series, Father Brown is depicted making the most of one’s humble station in life and being content and useful there. He doesn’t own a car, but he often wears a smile while riding his bicycle. If others insult him, he’s hardly moved and will often reply with a simple compliment for the other person or point out something that they can together be grateful for. He just keeps moving forward with what he believes he should do each day.

His keen eye for solving criminal cases is sharpened by a favorite pastime: reading murder mysteries. Others try to persuade him to stay strictly in the traditional activities of a parish priest. He attends to those well but knows deep down that he was also meant to meddle in the serious affairs of solving crime. His interest becomes part of his vocation, his niche, enabling him to right some of the wrongs that he sees around him. Father Brown also prays for unjust situations to be found out. The local chief inspector resents the priest’s intruding into his investigations, but while Father Brown bows out of taking any credit for solving the mysteries, he repeatedly proves himself indispensable.

God made each of us with a specific place and purpose in mind. Perhaps we could find deeper fulfillment in our station in life if we could learn to make the most of our position by equipping ourselves to do our best, wherever we find ourselves in life’s journey.

There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be good at what we do and receiving recognition for it, but we can become disheartened and discontent if we belittle our own place in life and long for a seemingly more preeminent position. Certainly there are many individuals who excel in positions of great usefulness or prominence. But many of us fill a place in life that would be considered more common and ordinary. Nevertheless, we are each given valuable hidden skills that can be developed in our current circumstances. And when we accept our situation and do all we can in it, we will often find ourselves developing those hidden or formerly dormant talents, which we can then use to help others. This in turn brings us contentment and fulfillment.

Some people know exactly what they want to do and who they want to be from a very young age. But many more simply have to find their way, pick an occupation, and often start small and learn as they go. Peer pressure, this world’s culture, and the human mind can often work together to cause us to belittle our place and position when it is a seemingly more ordinary and common one. But no place or position is really common or ordinary if it is the place and position God meant us to have, and where He meant for us to develop our unique skills.2

The Bible has plenty of people brought out of the ranks of obscurity and the commonplace, who ended up being key players—for example, Naaman’s maid was the one who mentioned where her master might find healing for his leprosy3 and the lad who gave Jesus his lunch, which was then multiplied to feed 5,000 people.4

Our place in life may not be one with lucrative income nor a position in the limelight, but it becomes a very special place and one of deep fulfillment when we put the principal values in first place—loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.5 Wherever He has us placed in this world, and for whatever length of time, we accept it and learn to make it better. That is what Father Brown did.

  1. Paraphrased from The Innocence of Father Brown, originally published 1911.
  2. See 2 Corinthians 10:12.
  3. See 2 Kings 5:1–15.
  4. See John 6:4–14.
  5. See Mark 12:29–31.