There Goes My Hero
I got a phone call from my daughter this morning. It hadn’t been the greatest of mornings to that point. A few phone calls and emails had had brought unwelcome news. Our church is in the middle of dealing with a flooded basement mere days before we’re supposed to host a provincial conference. A few tasks that I had little energy for were stubbornly beckoning. I was generally feeling uninspired and uninspiring, bored and boring, tired and tiring. I probably resembled Jonah, pouting under his pathetic little plant. And then the phone rang and a beautiful voice dispelled the clouds for a moment.
Dad, I need a quote from you about your values and how you see the world… And a timeline of your life. It’s for an assignment.
Hmm. My mind wanders down suspicious trails quite naturally, and my first thought was that my dear daughter was trying to get her dad to do her homework for her. Are you sure the assignment isn’t supposed to be about your values and how you see the world?
“Nope,” she cheerily replied. “We’re supposed to do an assignment about our hero, someone who has influenced our life and the way we look at the world. So can you do this or what? I need it pretty quick.”
I sort of bit a lip that was embarrassingly quivering by this point.
To be a parent of teenagers is to feel like you’re failing roughly 95% of the time. Sometimes you feel like you’re just trying to stagger across the finish line, to get your kids to adulthood while inflicting the least amount of damage, distributing the fewest scars that will require therapy down the road. So, to hear that you might be doing a few things right? That your daughter could possibly associate the word “hero” with “dad?” Well, that’s like a shimmering oasis in the middle of a desert. It’s enough to melt an overly sentimental heart (or send it off to write an ego-inflating blog post).
To be a person of faith can also feel like an awful lot of failing. I just can’t believe as well as I’m supposed to, I can’t articulate my faith very well, I have these doubts, I don’t understand the Bible, I can’t make up mind, I don’t care, I don’t want to care, I know I should care… I can’t live up to even the most basic tenets of what I say I believe… I don’t always know how to love God and my neighbour can be pretty irritating… I can’t forgive, don’t want to forgive… I can’t pray, don’t want to pray… I just keep on screwing it up. The list could go on, obviously. And of course when you’re a pastor—a professional Christian, for heaven’s sake!—the gap between the real and the ideal can be experienced as even more demoralizing.
But occasionally, in the midst of all of this, I have the wisdom to look at Jesus. Not at an institution or a belief system or a history or a church. Just the person of Jesus.
I see him speaking words of light and life, bringing health to frail and broken bodies, frustrating religious people, cutting to the chase, telling stories that convict and liberate, and loving in ways that take my breath away. I see him refusing empty praise. I see him slicing through selfish motives and ambitions and false pieties and demanding integrity. I see him prioritizing the people who most of us have far too little time for. I see him suffering and dying for the very people who rejected him. I see him taking our many and varied failures and offering forgiveness. I see him showing us what love actually looks like. I see him summoning the dead from their graves. And I think, “There goes my hero.”
Jesus carves through all the religious cluttter and reminds me that faith is not a “thing” I possess that I have to protect and preserve. It’s not an exam that I have to pass or a boss that requires appeasing. Faith is a decision to trust that there really is a love that holds the world and you and me—a love that forgives and heals and compels us to respond in kind. It’s a determination to spend a lifetime trying to learn how to look at and live in the world like Jesus did. Like Jesus does.
It’s to acknowledge that there’s a hero in this story and that it isn’t me.
Perhaps you’re wondering which quote I gave my daughter for her assignment. It was modified and taken from a letter that I wrote to her and my son on their sixteenth birthday. I wrote it specifically for them, obviously, but I think it might apply to the rest of us, too.
Be a person of reflexive grace, determined truth, sturdy hope, and unrelenting love. Your world needs each of these things so desperately. Be strong. Be honest, even when it’s inconvenient. Own your mistakes. Accept forgiveness and extend it willingly. Be kind (never underestimate the value of simple acts of unobserved kindness). Know that your value is not tied to the yo-yo-ing judgments of the world. Refuse the path of least resistance. God has given you gifts and expects you to steward them well. Be proud of who you are—the colour of your skin, the nature of your gifts, the contours of your story, the convictions and ambitions that beckon you onward. Be full of faith. Christ has called you, claimed you as his own, and loves you more deeply than you can ever know.