Before I type another word, let me say this: I think my kids are intelligent, witty, sweet, gifted, tenderhearted, emotionally sensitive, athletic, resolved, hilarious, thoughtful, adaptable, and more and more and more. My aspirations for them are nothing but high. They have and will, no doubt, continue to amaze me, I’m confidant they will do great things, and I could not be prouder as their mom.
They will never hear these words pass my lips: “You can do anything you set your mind to.” (never mind the dangling preposition) Or, “All you need is to believe in yourself.” Or, “If you can dream it, you can do it!”
For the record, I love Disney movies and make believe play, but I also really, really like the truth. There’s a critical line between instilling confidence in your kiddo and setting them up for a nasty headlong crash into reality by propping them up with the vague false, hope that somehow, we flawed people, hold more power than we actually do. (Case in point, I’m sure most of us can think of at least one person who fought a terminal illness with everything in them, and still died.)
I’m relatively tall, so you might think I should be able to play basketball, until you see my attempt at a lay-up. I sorely lack the hand, eye, foot, arm, whatever coordination required and even if I practiced all day, every day, I would never ever be drafted by the WNBA. No matter how hard I believed. Or tried. Or prayed. Or set my mind to.
After a high school semester of tears and trying (and failing) and pleading, my parents let me drop Algebra II because I couldn’t grasp the stuff and I promised them I’d pursue a career that didn’t need that kind of math. Any math, for that matter. Every since grade school, story problems provided way too much food for thought. I’d lose myself trying to stretch the underdeveloped plot: why was John on the train going sixty miles per hour? And what was he going to do in Boston when he got there? Meet someone? What was in his suitcase and why didn’t he just save time and take a plane? Is train fare cheaper? I could put in hours of effort, but I will never be a Math whiz. Ever.
We can’t be superstars at everything, right?
Try telling that to some of the American Idol contestants. Every season we watch a small, fresh batch of poor, misguided tone-deaf teenyboppers that really, really believe with all of their heart that they can sing, and we sit at home and think, why didn’t anyone ever tell you, you cannot sing? What a disservice! (Or perhaps they were told but refused to believe) These kids have got to have other noteworthy talents, like sewing a killer dress or encouraging people of the ledges of life, or speaking in public, or making impressive shadow puppets, but good gravy, it’s not singing. The most earnest self-belief cannot alter vocal chords.
Not everything we hope to achieve or hope to be, will be.
Before you write me off as a dream-crusher, here’s the good news in all of this: our shortcomings cause us (or should) to appreciate and need other people. We can let other people shine and even benefit in their shiny-ness. Tax accountants, painters, carpenters, people who fix things or bake things or make things…the list goes on and on. We can be happy that others’ abilities make up for our deficiencies.
I am all for hard work and perseverance and confidence and dreaming big, big, BIG and teaching our kids to go for it, but we do have limits folks, all of us, both individually and as a species and we can’t do everything. We are created with equal dignity and worth as well as diverse talents. Developing new skills and learning something new is wonderful. Bring it on! But we won’t excel at something simply because we can vividly envision our glory.
What’s so horrible about limitations? Maybe it’s healthy to cross a few things off our to-do lists and teach our kids to do the same.
But then here’s that one verse. Philippians 4:13. That was the one that popped into my mind while drafting this. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Right? And then I read it in context and saw that Paul was talking about the secret of being content in all circumstances. Christ gives us strength to be content in whatever we’re facing—hunger and sickness for Paul, as well as times of joy and plenty. Not so much about auditioning for American Idol. Unless you’re praying to be content even if you don’t walk out with that coveted going-to-Vegas-ticket.
So today, on this first day of school, DREAM BIG kids. Know who you are and whose you are. Come to terms with your shortcomings (we all have them). Be humble and grateful for your abilities and accept your imperfections. Try something new but don’t claw for the spotlight. Shine in the way you were meant to shine and let other people shine too, because that’s a lovely thing. And, in all circumstances, by His strength, be content.