“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” – Oscar Wilde
Our culture is always telling us not only what we can be, but what we should be. Especially in the Western world, we must achieve, we must win, we must succeed. However, we are not all leaders, and we are not all capitalist success stories. We are not all tall and thin, and we are not all poetic and kind. But we are all ourselves, and there is a real genuineness in that.
Now I want to digress momentarily for a story. (Yes, it has a moral. Sorry.) My favorite teacher in high school was not my favorite because he challenged me or taught me things that I could never have learned on my own (although he did both of these things). He was my favorite because he was Cool. He was funny, he had fun, and he let us have fun. Anyone who knew him automatically knew that he was cool. He had a great family, he was smart and kind, and people genuinely liked him. As much as I always liked him, I envied him, as well. If only I could be that well liked. And cool. But then something happened, and some people didn’t think he was as cool any more. They figured he must have lost his mind or something, because he became something that people whispered about in hushed tones: a born-again Christian. Why would someone who was envied feel the need to change, to “lose his cool,” so to speak? I have never asked him, and maybe one day I will. The point is this: this man felt a need for something more in his life, and he had a need that being good and popular could not fill. Nothing else changed, except that he became happier. Sure, he wanted to share that happiness with other people, and people don’t like that. But he was still the same man, and yet people act like something is wrong with him. Did they just never really know him, or are they convincing themselves that there was simply some imbalance that they never previously recognized? Why can’t he just be like he was before?
I’ll come back to my teacher in a moment. If you are a Christian, you are instructed that there is no skill we are given that does not have a purpose in God’s redemptive plan for this world. There is something amazing in the idea of being a part of God’s plan, no matter how small or insignificant we may feel. We all have different things that we are good at, and even when we feel most hopeless and useless, we know that we have something to offer this world, even if we don’t think anyone else will ever discover it. We hear about the butterfly effect and the Starfish Story, and we feel certain that we can make a difference. The difficulty sometimes lies in recognizing what we truly have to offer, and then using our gifts and talents to offer it. Paul the Apostle tells us:
For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 13:4-8
He is explaining that we are each a unique combination of traits designed for a particular purpose. We are certainly not all the same, and to be envious of another’s talents is to disregard our own. Even the color of our hair and the length of our fingers are part of a design for us that will accomplish specific goals, if we allow the guidance.
Of course, that is the catch. God will accomplish His plan regardless of our level of obedience or disobedience. We have the choice of the part we wish to play. The end is decided – we choose the path we take to get there. Joseph was going to save Egypt and the Hebrews, but it was the choices of his brothers that caused him to do it as a result of slavery and bondage. The same designated result occurred, but through unnecessary pain and suffering because of sin and disobedience. Whatever is within you – is a part of you – God has designed you that way specifically because He loves you and wants to use you. Cherish whatever gifts you have been given. We are not all called to be preachers, missionaries, singers, or leaders. Some of us need to work the sound board, encourage the lonely, and fill the little grape juice cups.
This brings us back to the teacher. He had spent the majority of his adult life teaching kids. He had made a contribution to the world, and it was good. Does he have something else to offer in retirement? I am sure that God is pleased that he was saved, but what could he be called to do with his gifts and abilities that hadn’t been done in thirty years of teaching? His time was not wasted in those years of teaching, but neither should he waste those that he has left (nor is he, I might add). If he had no place in God’s plan, then he would be called home. The mere fact that he has not been is evidence that he is still called to use everything he has been given to accomplish God’s purposes for his life. That is what we are all called to do. I use him as an example because he lived a good life, was a good man, and benefitted all who came in contact with him; but there was more to be done.
I cannot sing and I cannot dance. I’m pretty good with Excel. I have to establish my place in God’s plan according to what He has given me. The fact is, we can all recognize talent, even our own. Humility should not be false, where we deny what we’re good at. Humble people should recognize their talents and yet understand what C.S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters:
…The doctrine that they did not create themselves, that their talents were given them, and that they might as well be proud of the colour of their hair…. [God] wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another.
We will eventually be judged not simply by what we do or do not do, but how we utilized what was given us. As illustrated in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we will be given according to our abilities, and we are to profit the world with those “talents.” Be yourself – the self that God created to do amazing things in this world, in a unique way that no one else possibly can. As it reads in a picture that my grandmother stitched for me as a child:
What we are, is God’s gift to us. What we become, is our gift to God.