We want to be the most valuable player in our lives, but what if we aren’t and were never meant to be? How do we make peace with this?
“You are the Chosen One.” Movies, books and video games are obsessed with this idea of unique destiny, whether it’s through prophesies or rare abilities. We, as a culture, are obsessed with the idea of being special.
In Star Wars, Anakin Skywalker was the one who would bring balance to the force; Ash Ketchum could connect with Pokémon in unforeseen ways; Harry Potter was prophesied to have the powers to bring down his world’s biggest baddie; Rand al’Thor is a reincarnation of an ancient hero from Wheel of Time history; the player’s character in Fallout 2 is a direct descendant of the revered Vault Dweller.
Po in Kung Fu Panda, Gabriel Belmont in Castlevania, Buffy Summers in her titular TV show, Neo in The Matrix, Darrow in Red Rising, Link in any of the Zelda games — the list could go on and on. We’re dying to be exceptional.
In her self-congratulatory book Untamed, Glennon Doyle wrote, “Every life is an unprecedented experiment. This life is mine alone. So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been. There is no map. We are all pioneers.”
No one has lived the life you live. No one can tell you what to do. You’re unique!
The problem with this mentality is that it taps into a kernel of truth, but it also systematically ignores other common-sense facts and spiritual realities.
Not the Special We Want
When we read the Bible, we find a fascinating tension between two poles of thought: you’re special, but not maybe in all the ways that you would like.
We’re made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), which is pretty amazing all by itself. God didn’t stop there, though; he gives us different gifts in the Spirit and duties in the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-31). He often chooses to speak to us in the different ways; he wasn’t above using a donkey to talk to one particular knucklehead (Numbers 22:21-35).
In many places in scripture, we’re told that God tenderly loves and cares for his people. Psalm 18:19 straight out states, “He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me” (NIV).
The problem comes, as David Mathis points out on Desiring God, when we lose sight of the real reason we’re special. “When sinners contemplate their own specialness, we don’t typically think about our relation to animals or angels, or what it means to be in Christ, or our particular specialness to family and friends. Rather, we often think we’re special compared to others — because of our qualities. Our gifts. Our achievements. Our abilities. Bells that ring to our own glory.”
The moment we start comparing ourselves to others, good or bad, inside the church or outside it, we quickly run into problems. In this vein, David Wilkerson noted, “What is God's motivation for wanting to deliver you? Is it because you have done something to appease him?...
“It doesn't matter what you do to try to clean yourself up. If you don't trust Jesus to save you through his grace, all your righteousness is as filthy rags in God's sight. Your flesh isn't accepted before God; it can't even be reformed. All flesh was done away with at the cross. Now a new man has come forth, the Christ man, and true faith is having confidence in what he did for you!”
Our confidence, our ‘specialness’ can’t come out of anything we’ve done or even the gifts God gives us. The Bible’s very clear about how good our works actually are in the Lord’s sight, and some of us may have been given gifts and tasks to do for the kingdom of heaven that no one is likely to notice, much less applaud.
We’re loved because of God’s nature as a good Father and his work to redeem us from our own bad choices. If we think about it, that’s truly exceptional.
It’s just we probably weren’t hoping for that kind of special.
Disappearing Into the Background
When we consider how small our part is in the world and God’s story, it may become tempting to swing the opposite direction and completely dismiss the impact of our choices or existence.
One man wrote in to Ravi Zacharias with a question that has haunting many of us at one time or another. “Am I special? Aren’t I just one in billions? Aren’t I like an employee or worker of God, just to be replaced by another one in the crowd? I mean, if you think about it, I don’t matter. If I was not born in my parents’ house, there would have been someone else. If I will not be the husband of my future wife, it will be someone else…”
This existential crisis is a modern echo of the ancient psalmist who once asked, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4, ESV).
Becoming fatalistic is an easy trap to fall into when we start comparing ourselves to the enormous universe as a whole or comparing ourselves to people who are more visibly gifted. If I was missing from my most important relationships, someone else would’ve filled the void just as well.
This mentality takes our eyes off of God and sadly diminishes his creativity and unique stamp on each one of us. What if he made you with certain characteristics to interact in specific ways with other people? What if he made us to glorify him in little moments and unseen choices? What if our lives are important for reasons we’ll never see here on earth?
What if we don’t get to be the judges of our own value?
The story is God’s, about God and for God’s glory; but we’ve only seen a tiny portion of it so far, and we have no idea what he’s chosen to do through our lives, small and insignificant though they may seem.
The Story That’s Not About Us
In his book Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi describes the anguished moment when his loving Muslim parents discovered that he had forsaken Islam and put his faith in Christ. They were crushed.
After they left, Nabeel fell on his face and asked God, “’Why didn’t You kill me? It would have been better if you had killed me the moment I believed so my family would never have had to taste betrayal. This is far worse for them than my death would have been. At least our love would have lived on….’
“At that moment, the most agonizing moment of my life, something happened that was beyond my theology and imagination. As if God picked up a megaphone and spoke through my conscience, I heard these words resonate through my very being:
“‘Because this is not about you.’”
Immediately, Nabeel described feeling an overwhelming sense of peace. He wasn’t the main character of his story; his loves and griefs, while not ignored by God, were also not the most important aspect of his life; personal glory and familial honor must give way to God’s glory.
We’re included in this grand tale that’s not about us but where we are, nonetheless, graciously given a small, vital part to play.