Abby Perry is a nonprofit professional, pastor's wife, mom of two boys and writer from College Station, Texas. She writes at www.joywovendeep.com and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary.
“You can be anything you want to be!” my three-year-old son, Owen, sings. I cringe, unable to stop myself from overanalyzing the glaring untruth of that statement.
A few days later, we are driving in the car. “Hey bud,” I say, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” He does not hesitate. “When I grow up,” he says, “I’m going to be EVERYTHING!”
Return of the cringe.
I think about this conversation with Owen often. He remains convinced that the best option available to him is to be everything – a firefighter, a doctor, a soccer player, a youth pastor (like his dad). Part of this, of course, is rooted in his indiscriminate young spirit. But I think that, too, he has already latched on to a myth humanity perpetuates, passing it back and forth between adults, passing it down to our children. "Be it all," we whisper. "Then you’ll have it all."
We may not mean this as surreptitiously as it sounds. We may not mean to be communicating a strategy for grasping power, acquiring wealth or promoting self. But as we greet new acquaintances with, “so what do you do?” we find ourselves speaking in the language of achievement and involvement. It is easy to find ourselves on the hamster wheel of skill acquisition, no end nor satisfaction in sight.
We often hear in Christian circles that comparison is the thief of joy. Paul tells us that those who measured and compared themselves with one another were without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12). These truths manifest in many ways, one of which is the inability to gain self-knowledge and grow in self-awareness when our eyes are continually looking to the lives and (perceived) abilities of others in order to have a metric by which we can measure our successes. We see the man in the neighboring cubicle, the woman on the stage, the friend with the entrepreneurial propensity, the mother with one child more than we have, the family member who turns everything to gold, and we feel a pressing down in our souls.
"I am not as gifted as they are," we think. "Look at everything that they can do. What can I do? I don’t feel like I’m good at anything."
Never are we so blind to our own unique gifts and callings than when we are lusting after the talents of others. Never are we so discouraged by our own perceived smallness than when we look at the world through the magnifying glass of comparison.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the talents, in which a man entrusts various amounts of money (known as talents) to his servants – one talent, two talents and five talents respectively. Upon the master’s return, he inquires after what the servants have done with their money. The servant who was given one talent had buried it. The servant who was given two had invested them and now had four, just as the servant who was given five now returned with ten. The master praises the servants of the two and five, calling them good and faithful and giving them greater responsibility. The servant who had one talent, however, was scorned; his talent was taken away, and his job as well.
How often do we do this with our gifts, with our unique offerings that are waiting to bless the world? Perceiving that another has greater ability than we do, we bury that which we could invest. We are protective, embarrassed, and fearful of losing what little we have. But following the logic of the passage, the very thing we are called to do is to assess that which the Master has given us and invest it wisely. We are not to look to the right or the left in order to compare our gifts to others, but rather joyfully combine our gifts with others, collective eyes fixed on the goal of honoring the Lord and seeking the prosperity of the communities in which He has placed us (Jeremiah 29).
It may be the case that some of us have lesser capacities than others, smaller investments to make. It may be the case that someone else’s gifts seem to be more transformative in the lives of others, or are more easily seen. It is, however, most certainly the case that each person is created in the image of God and positioned in the world to reflect Him for His glory within the scope He has assigned to each (Isaiah 43:7; 2 Corinthians 10:13). He is the standard by which we compare ourselves, and we find ourselves falling drastically short, our abilities laughable in the presence of an all-powerful God.
But then we remember that when He sees us, He sees His Son (Colossians 3:3). No longer does comparison need to keep us from pressing in to our unique gifting from God. It is His glory we pursue in our service, not our own. We are called out of fear and into flourishing, hearts lifted up to the only One Who can satisfy, hands free to bless those around us rather than be threatened by them.
We do not need to be “everything,” nor chase the elusive “anything” of another that once prompted jealousy. We are God’s, bearing His image within us, and there is no greater calling.