5.06.2011

What Makes Us Special


Earlier this week was my quarterly report card conference with Jada's kindergarten teacher. Afterwards, I lingered in the hallway to look at the students' work that had been posted on the wall. There were two essays written by Jada, and one collage about her in which her answer to the question "why am I special" was "because my family loves me." Very cute.

I won't ascribe to my six-year-old more than what is due, since it was probably a simple answer to a simple question. But there is a profound lesson there. Feeling special is important for us humans, so it's pretty universal that we seek out reasons to feel special. Sadly, we grown-ups too often look to fairly shallow things to feel special about: our looks, our possessions, our talents, our accomplishments.

Let me not be so general, but rather implicate myself. I look to these and other things to help me feel good about myself. When I'm in a groove, I puff out my chest. And, when, much of the time, I'm stumbling along, it can affect my mood.

At my present station in life, feeling special in this way has become exceedingly difficult. While I am good at many things, I am not great at any of them, not even among my relatively narrow peer group, let alone at a broader geography. And, I am more and more aware of more and more things I am decidedly mediocre or worse at. Though I am not immune from vanity about physical appearance or materialism over physical possessions, my more common go-to's in this arena are knowledge, skill, and accomplishment. And, lately, I am profoundly aware of just how unspecial I am if that's the scoreboard.

From this worldview, life is a bit of a crapshoot. We have varied talent levels and varied ability to accept ourselves, so if we're high on both fronts then it's smooth sailing, but if it's any other combination, we may have a bumpy ride at times.

The Christian believes differently, or at least strives to. We are no different in the vast distribution of talent and self-esteem. But we are to introduce into this mix a Creator, who has lovingly made us in our mother's womb, and who lovingly molds us over time.

Our self-esteem, our "what makes us special," is not subject to the vagaries of our day-to-day performance or our ability to massage our sensitive feelings, but rather is anchored in something outside of us, surer than us and our psyches and our daily journeys. It is anchored in a steadfast love, by a perfect God, secured by a remarkable transaction. It is a glorious revelation, a freeing truth, and (because we are flawed) a daily struggle to embrace.

In Jada's simple mind, she is special because her family loves her. It is a sweet and innocent sentiment. There is a lesson there for all of us, and a question too. What makes us special? What are we rooting our sense of uniqueness upon? Will we, in an increasingly tumultuous journey, anchor ourselves on the firm foundation of God's great love for us? Daily, I pray so.

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