Don’t be the BEST, be you!
Superlatives are idols and lies and ugly task masters. But we live in a culture that convinces us they are the telos (the goal) for which we strive. The message is all around us.
It’s in beauty ads, or any ad, that pushes us to understand there is an ideal type or lifestyle or look. It’s in the drive for younger and more and more organized and more specialized competitive sports. It’s why we are told Brazil is a loser and in despair… because they didn’t end up (for one 90 minute moment in time while missing two of their best players) being the BEST team in the entire world.
It’s why we have Ivy League colleges and read about the best small college, or best sports college, or the best this that and the other way of making sure our alma mater is BEST at something. And then to procure that for the next generation we make sure they get in the BEST pre-kindergarten.
It’s why there is a whole thing called Facebragging and, what brought this to mind, its why when we take online quizzes to find out what movie we are, or character, or drink or whatever, we like what it says because it’s usually filled with superlatives and compliments (just enough to that you will resonate with a couple of them and say: that is sooo me). I have never taken a quiz that told me I was an extra in the movie that didn’t speak and ended up getting cut out of the end production to get the screen time under 2 hours. But you know what? Most often that is exactly who we are – and there is nothing wrong with that.
I just took one because I usually enjoy figuring out how they decide what result you get, and I got that I should be described as the two words: Exceptionally Bighearted. And my response was, “no I’m not.” I’ve fairly hearted… I think. In my better moments. It’s something I work at but I will never be exceptionally bighearted – its just not the glove that fits me well. And I’m okay with that. I’m okay being someone who is okay at heartedness and working to be better.
I grew up with two best friends who were much better athletes than I was. They just were better at everything. I played a lot of tennis growing up because I enjoyed it and was good at it. I remember with fondness the day my hard work at tennis overcame my friends’ natural ability. I beat them. I worked hard at it (and had they worked as hard at it as I had they would beat me… probably easily). I was never going to be great. But that was okay. I enjoyed it. I was good. And that worked for me. Had I needed to be the best I was bound for a life of disappointment and angst. It just wasn’t going to happen.
I remember several years ago my younger sister watching my young kids said, “They are just so normal.” Now that sounds like a weird thing to say. Does anyone want to be normal? But my sister’s kids – who are sweet and wonderful – were also born with a lot of developmental challenges due to a hereditary disease. My sister meant it as the height of compliments. You see – normal can be quite the blessing. And her kids are a wonderful blessing too, even if they aren’t “normal.” There are things they cannot do, there are challenges they live with (feeding tubes for instance), but that doesn’t make them “less than.” Evaluatory terms little good, better, and best are particular about a skill or attribute but they should never be understood to describe the value of a person – but they so often do, and it’s incredibly hurtful. People are not the sum of the scores on the sports scores, their grade cards, their artistic vision, and beauty pageant results. Nor should we be evaluated as successful based on the salaries we make, the size of our office, the utility of our field of work, the picture window view of our martial life, or the number of kids we have. (Or the ways they succeeded in things we wish we had.)
Chasing after superlatives, and measurables of a successful life, or uniqueness to stand out in a crowd as BEST…. These things are idols. They are ends (goals, achievements) we chase after often to the detriment of our emotional and spiritual health. They make value statements not only for us but our friends, our family, and our community.
James Bryan Smith, author of the Good and Beautiful God (and its follow up books) is fond of saying, “You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights.” Not because of what superlatives you can claim. You simply are because who you are is good, God loves you for all of who you are and who you are not; God delights in you with all your warts and challenges, blessings and gifts.
The value judgments of our culture (any culture) are a challenge we will always live with. There will always be voices that we cannot drown out telling us we aren’t special enough, normal enough, fast enough, pretty enough, smart enough, creative enough…. That we aren’t superlative enough. Reject the voice. You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights. Reject the voice for another. They are different than you, and Christ dwells and delights in him and her too. Reject the goal of making life a score card, an accomplishment, a grade, a value judgment. And receive the love and acceptance of God who says I have numbered the hairs on your head, I know you inside and out, I see you waking and sleeping, falling down and stumbling, overcoming and standing out. And I love you – I love all of you, for who you are right now. This day and forever.
You are one in whom Christ dwells and delights… delight in who you are as well.