It’s graduation season! What joy to see all the beautiful, smiling faces of those marking the official completion of one phase of life and celebrating the tremendous accomplishment represented in that diploma or certificate, that concrete stamp of approval. For some, the joy may well be laced with relief, as in ‘Whew, that’s over. I actually did it when perhaps I wasn’t always sure I could.’ For others there is deep pride in knowing that you gave it your all; that you were in your groove and finished strong. For still others, the joy may be in anticipating the next step, that this milestone being celebrated is just one in a line stretching into the future.
As a recovering perfectionist, I loved all those milestones. School came easily to me, although that doesn’t mean I didn’t work hard! But the truth is, I received a lot of positive strokes throughout that process, which meant my ego enjoyed itself greatly. Except for physics. I hated physics. I convinced myself it was just my teacher, but the truth is others in my class did just fine while I did not, bruising my ego and bursting my myth simultaneously. Which, of course, was how a lot of other people felt in all those courses that were smooth sailing for me.
Many people don’t receive ego strokes in the arena of academics, and many people argue that our school systems are designed less for actual learning than for ego stroking, for keeping score. And in the world of score keeping, where we live and move and have our being each and every day, there are always far more losers than winners. Let’s face it; there is only one valedictorian per hundreds or even thousands of non-valedictorians. Most of us are losers most of the time, as there is always someone else who is stronger, better, smarter, harder working, richer or any other way in which we are addicted to counting and scoring.
But there is only one you. No one else can be you the way you can. No one else brings your smile, your unique set of gifts, your particular blessing to life except for you. Over and over God says from the very beginning: “it is good.” Better than good, actually, “very good,” in fact. Very good is what you are. Can you take that in as you’re reading this? For some, this truth bounces right off because it feels uncomfortable. Or maybe it doesn’t stick because you know all the ways in which you don’t measure up, you aren’t enough, you blow it. Okay, you’re right. You do mess up. You and I both do, all the time. We hurt people. We make mistakes and miss the mark. We’re human.
But we human ‘counters’ very often don’t know how to hold together this divine truth that we are both very good and also flawed, that our beautiful gifts are balanced by our particular weaknesses and that God loves all of us, just as we are. Even the apostle Paul struggled with this insight. Paul, like us, didn’t know Jesus in the flesh. But he came to know Christ in such a powerful way that he came to embrace the mystery revealed to him that,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, Paul goes on to write, I was glad to let [my limitation] happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take my limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limits cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
—2 Corinthians 12:8-10 from The Message
Please take a deep breath and breathe out all those thoughts, those convictions that entrap you. Because they, like your grade point average—or your cholesterol level or your bank statement or any other measure that seems to imply a lack—do not make you who you are. You are a beloved child of God, sent into this moment, and each moment, to manifest the divine light already within you in your particular way—and no one else can do it for you! The light comes through your many strengths to be sure, but trust that it comes through even more powerfully through your weaknesses. May we be set free from the tyranny of counting to live abundant lives, drawing others into that joy along the way. And when we forget, and we will forget, may we return to our source and hear once again: you are very good.
Hope to see you Sunday,