By Danny R. Von Kanel
In many years of living, I have always served in a subservient role, whether to a minister as his associate or to a boss in a business. Indeed, throughout my high school, college, and graduate school years, I was never elected president of organizations, always vice president. Over time, this position became a no-brainer. To others, playing second fiddle is difficult.
“An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation: ‘Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony’” (James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited).
While learning about humility and serving in the shadows, it helps to try to understand the reasons why others hardly notice:
1. Preoccupation with Themselves
When life is all about ourselves, nothing diverts our attention unless it affects what we are doing. Humility is absent.
Of the many wonderful ministers with whom I served through the years, two were all about themselves. One was a ladder climber. He only interacted with me as a staff member to the degree it helped him up to the next pinnacle in his ministry. As long as the event or activity I was doing had him in the forefront, he was happy.
The second knew he was brilliant. Truly, IQ wise, he was extremely intelligent. But he knew his own intellectual worth and wanted everyone else to see it too. Hence, little time was wasted on those who he viewed as lesser subjects. If you couldn’t hold your ground in intellectual debates, he quickly dismissed you. Few could hold sway with him. His ministry was himself and him alone.
Success eluded both these men.
Lesson learned—Success in life is seldom the work of one person. Great accomplishments invariably include others. Look beyond yourself and see what others are doing.
Second-fiddle service can be first-class ministry when we allow Christ to demonstrate a servant heart through us. Most folks only want to know we care. Though your name and presence may not be in the limelight, people respect and honor a godly person living in humility and in service to them. It’s good to have someone you can see living such a life. Mirror that person’s godly walk, directing attention away from self to others, and any selfish regrets of second-fiddle contemplation will diminish. Acceptance of your place will reign.
Even if the number one position is enamored with himself, honor him or her. King David and his men did (1 Samuel 26:23-25). “They served the number one people with diligence, faithfulness and honor. They refused to touch God’s anointed with their words, swords or behavior. In all things they showed respect and honor for those they served” (Beth Jones, “Second Fiddle”).
2. Problems with Jealousy
Others sometimes hate to admit our success. They are jealous when it comes our way so they will never acknowledge our contributions.
Lesson learned—Recognize when jealousy raises its ugly head in you and in others. Practice recognizing second fiddlers on your team, both privately and publicly.
In a secular job setting, a coworker with similar responsibilities became jealous of my success. Human nature took over when my performance excelled while hers took a beating. Aggravating the situation, her friends supported her jealousy. In essence, she saw herself in a status of second fiddle to me. This situation was not good for her or me, since we needed to work together, so I began letting her share the limelight while I took more of a backseat. Though her jealousy never completely vanished, she gained status and felt a vital part of our organization.
3. Prior Absence of Recognition in Their Own Lives
Lack of praise may be all some people have known. It’s a fact that we tend to give back what we receive. Learned behavior is hard breaking out of. If they didn’t receive recognition, don’t expect it from them. Coupled with this is a view that you did only what the job required, therefore you deserve no special singling out.
Lesson learned—Accept this possible reality in others, but determine that you will acknowledge the contribution of others, no matter how small. If recognition as a second-fiddle player is something you need, allow your spouse or a coworker to give it if your supervisor does not.
Early on in life, recognition was something for which I yearned. Now, years later, I know how God has used and blessed me. My affirmation comes from him. Though a pat on the back is nice every now and then, it is not necessary. For others, it is. I seek ways now to affirm everyone I encounter, especially those I know will never be center stage. Better yet, I especially like to nudge others into the spotlight who people never see working behind the scenes. The expression on their faces is priceless when others notice their contribution for the first time.
When others are enamored with themselves, become jealous of your success, or fail to give you deserving recognition, remember: success comes with others’ help, jealousy diminishes when the jealous are allowed their time in the sun, and God will give you needed affirmation while you serve in a second-fiddle status.
Accept your role—for we will always be second fiddle to God!
Danny R. Von Kanel is a freelance writer in Franklinton, Louisiana.
Pride from God’s Perspective
Difficulties with serving in the shadows can often be traced to pride.
1. Use these Scriptures to examine your heart and open yourself to God’s healing:
• Deuteronomy 8:14
• 2 Chronicles 26:16
• Job 40:11
• Psalm 10:4
• Psalm 138:6
• Proverbs 13:10
• Proverbs 16:5
• Proverbs 16:19
• Ecclesiastes 7:8
• Galatians 6:4
2. Think and pray about specific ways pride creeps into your work and relationships. Repent and ask God to transform your heart.
3. Ask a friend to help keep you accountable to choosing God’s way rather than pride.