As a Dad, I of course love my kids. I anticipate with joy each day of their lives ahead of them. I’ve marveled as they’ve grown from ideas to bumps in a belly to wriggling, pooping aliens to wobbling toddlers and laughing balls of wonder and enthusiasm and into kids on the edge of adolescence and adulthood. I look forward to watching them grow and launch into the world. I pray and hope the best for them, and want to do a good job of preparing them to be the best people they can be.
So says any decent father, ever. No big deal.
But all that being said, I think I’m probably a bit overly realistic, too. I love my kids and think they’re amazing, but I don’t necessarily think they’re going to be President of the United States (remember when that was an honorable thing to aspire to, the pinnacle of possible achievement as a citizen?). I don’t think they’re going to be elite movie or TV stars, or top athletes raking in scholarships and then endorsements. I don’t presume that they’ll have their names engraved in history. I could be wrong, and I certainly will be happy to admit that if I am. But my assumption is that my kids are going to grow up to be ordinary people. Regular folk.
I wonder if that’s a common parental assumption. I was flipping through the latest Costco magazine and the opening advertisement was for some sort of children’s nutritional supplement or vitamin or something. A young child with Einstein-like hair was smiling, gazing presumably into his bright and amazing future. The tag line was something to the effect of how this product is preparing all the little Einsteins of the future.
But all of their customers’ kids are not going to be Einstein. It reminds me of my favorite quote from The Incredibles – an exchange between a super-hero mom and her super-hero son about not using his super powers. She tells him that everyone is special, to which he sulkily replies “Which is another way of saying no one is.”
Every child is a future Einstein. Every pee-wee football player is destined for the NFL. Every clever kid is the next Robin Williams. Every kid that can sing is the next Taylor Swift or whoever. Nothing but the stars, baby! Nothing but the top! Every single one of you all crowded there at the top. Sound great, doesn’t it?
But what makes Einstein remarkable and an inspiration is that not everyone can be him. Not everyone was as brilliant as he was. Most people weren’t. Most people still aren’t, which is why he’s still a big deal. Not everyone is as talented as Leonardo da Vinci. Not everyone is as talented as a top musician, or as skilled and inventive as Thomas Edison. That’s not the way the world works, by and large. Most of us are going to fade into obscurity beyond the small circle of friends and family who know and love us.
Which understandably is not a cheery thought. It can easily lead one into a bit of a funk. I realize that as a Christian, it’s easy for me to interpret the world and life this way through my faith. Of course we all die. Of course the world is going to hell-in-a-handbasket. Of course Christians are being persecuted. Of course the election is depressing. What else should we expect? We have an enemy and he’s dedicated to our destruction.
Which is why I was reminded of this essay recently, a reminder that my faith is not one that justifies pessimism or fatalism in a passive way. Yes, we have an enemy that hates us. Yes the world and the people in it suffer because of this enemy. But we have a hope in Christ that sustains us and strengthens us, the glass of the hurricane lamp that allows the light within us to continue to shine regardless of how the tempter blows around us.
My hope for my children is not an opportunity for exploitation by the business interests of this world, however. I have a hope for myself and my children, but it isn’t a hope that is going to be increased by buying every product and service that promises to craft them into the champions of tomorrow. I’m pretty sure Einstein wasn’t taking multi-vitamins or nutritional supplements. Edison didn’t graduate from Harvard. It is not the world that makes me or my children exceptional, but rather the God who created us unique in all of time and space, and has promised to gather us to himself through the gift of his Son, Jesus.
So pessimism, no. Realism, yes. It’s difficult to balance and I undoubtedly do a lousy job of it. But Paul speaks to the Corinthian Christians as to the nature and source of our present reality and our future hope. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
I need to remember this as a Christian as well as teach it to my children, and I never noticed how beautifully super-hero mom’s discussion with her super-hero child also speaks to this:
Helen: Right now, honey, the world just wants us to fit in, and to fit in, we gotta be like everyone else.
Dash: But Dad always said our powers were nothing to be ashamed of, our powers made us special.
The world wants us to fit in. This means we are to go to work and spend our money. It means we are to believe the advertisements and the slogans, the party platforms and the campaign promises, the hype and the glamour and the Photoshopping and the digital effects, as though the world is the fullness of all that we could want or hope for. But we in Christ have been given something better. Our dad has given us amazing power that makes us special – but the kind of special that anyone can receive and stand on level footing with us. Our exceptionalism in Christ is not exclusionary, as opposed to the world’s exceptionalism that sooner or later requires the culling of the weak so that the strong might thrive.
That’s the exceptionalism I want and hope and pray for my children. Not necessarily that their names will be written in the history books of the world, or that they’ll be viral YouTube stars or enjoy the praise and recognition of the world on the world’s terms. Although if that happens, I pray my kids remember me and buy me nice things in my old age! Rather, I want and hope and pray that their names will be found in the Book of Life, that their exceptionalism as unique creations of a loving God will be celebrated in his Glory forever, regardless of whether the world considered them much of anything at all.
And you won’t find that at Costco.