For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of
God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us,
created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
--Ephesians 2:8-10 NRSV
The hospital comedy Scrubs aired on NBC from 2001-2010. As its opening credits rolled, a quirky song played. I could never catch all the words, but the credits ended with the words, “I’m no Superman.” It turns out the song is called “Superman” and its by a band called Lazlo Bone. The chorus of the song goes:
Well, I know what I've been told
You gotta work to feed the soul
But I can't do this all on my own
No, I know, I'm no Superman
I'm no Superman
I don’t know anything about this band, and I’m not quite sure how the chorus of this song fits with the verses, but I feel like I need to play this song every morning so it will become an earworm in my head. That way maybe I will remember that I’m no Superman.
You’d think all I’d need to do is look in the mirror to realize I would not look good in blue tights and red cape, but you see I was a “good kid.” In my nuclear family, I learned that getting praise and affection from my parents meant being a “good kid.” That idea transferred over into my spirituality (as our relationships with our parents often do) so that I felt that to get God’s love I likewise had to be a “good kid.” I heard lessons about grace and not earning God’s love, but those ideas never really sunk in. My identity and spirituality became a twisted sort of egotism. On the one hand, I felt like everything was up to me in terms of being good enough to prove my worth before God and the world, but at the same time I knew that I was never good enough. I had no sense that people loved me for who I was and I didn’t really believe God loved me just as I was either. I had to be a sort of Superman to prove to myself, everyone else and God that I was good.
When one lives with the belief that deep down one is really not good enough that leads to a lot of unhealthy behaviors. Serving others and not being selfish becomes a great way to deny yourself what you need to be a healthy person and to have healthy relationships. When you believe you have to keep giving to others, because deep down you have to earn their love and prove you are worthy of their love, then you quickly become a burned out and even bitter person. When one needs to prove their self-worth, then everything becomes a competition lest someone else do something better proving you aren’t as good as you feel you must be. Living this way, one gives not out of one’s best self but out of one’s worst self, a self ruled by insecurity, fear and constant feelings of inferiority. It’s a strangely defeating to feel like one must be Superman all the while believing that you are the farthest thing from it.
Parker Palmer writes about this kind of life in his amazing book, Let Your Life Speak:
When I give something I do not possess, I give a false and dangerous gift, a gift that looks like love but is, in reality, loveless—a gift given more from my need to prove myself than from the other’s need to be cared for. That kind of giving is not only loveless but faithless, based on the arrogant and mistaken notion that God has no way of channeling love to the other except through me. Yes, we are created in and for community, to be there, in love, for one another. But community cuts both ways: when we reach the limits of our own capacity to love, community means trusting that someone else will be available to the person in need.
I have often fallen into the trap of feeling like I couldn’t let go of a commitment I had made, because I feared it would reveal my own sense of failure. It has been hard for me to trust myself, my true self that God created in God’s image, to admit that often others can do things better than I can. By continuing to grit it out from fear of being seen as inadequate, I refuse to trust others and to trust that God will work through them.
Minister and writer Tony Robinson wrote in a United Church of Christ Daily Devotional about this kind of mixed up arrogance:
Following me, said Jesus, means self-renunciation. According to the dictionary, self-renunciation is, "rejecting, repudiating, sacrificing, giving up your self."
This business of self-renunciation is a tricky matter. I can think of whole lot of ways to get it wrong:
what I want or need isn’t important
I should always take care of others (but never myself)
my job is to fix you, make you successful, get you sober, make you happy, etc.
if I don’t do this, no one will
if I can just be perfect, everything will be fine
One form of self-renunciation that feels real, if hard, important and Jesus-like, is to give up on being the grim bookkeeper working away at keeping the ledgers of life’s rights and wrongs on everyone else. Throw out the books. Close the accounts. Renounce your need to say or prove that you are right and he/ she is wrong. Renounce your intricate and truly tiresome strategies for justifying yourself or making yourself look good. Give it up to Jesus by whose grace alone you and I are healed and restored.
I grew up Southern Baptist, and every worship service had to have an invitation hymn at its end. As the soft music played, it was a time for the “unsaved” to walk the aisle down to the front in order “to accept Christ as Lord and savior.” There was a section in the hymnal called “Invitation Hymns” and I knew them all by heart, because as a preacher’s kid I had been to a whole lot of worship services. In the hymnal I grew up with there were two versions of the hymn Just as I am, one had four verses and the other had at least six—it felt like twenty! When the longer version was selected, I knew it was going to be a long time until lunch.
The words of that hymn, however, which spoke of God loving me and accepting me “Just as I am” never hit home. As I look back on them, I realize I’m still trying to learn the lesson that I don’t’ have to be Superman, because God loves me for who I am.
Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within without
O Lamb of God, I come, I come
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851