No Timmy, You’re Not Really That Special

June 3, 2009

“You can do anything if you put your mind to it.”

When I was a kid, my parents told me I could do anything I put my mind to. I believed them. They were good parents for encouraging me. My Dad told me I could be the President if I wanted to be. That sounded pretty good for a five-year-old of my skills.

The encouragements of my parents seemed plausible at the time. I was a pretty smart kid, things came easy in school. Once, I signed up for a YMCA softball team. I could do anything, so I could play softball.

I stepped up to the plate at our first practice. The coach was pitching. I took my batting stance. I kept my eye on the ball, just like my old man told me to. There was a slight grin on my face and a gleam in my eye as I prepared to show everyone what I was made of. I took aim and swung the bat as hard as I could.

Long story short, I discovered that day I could not do everything I put my mind to. But Gramps still told me I was special and gave me a Werthers Original.

It quickly became apparent, and was later confirmed by scientific tests, that the unique mix of my parents’ DNA had produced a theoretically implausible child – perhaps the first recorded case – a child with absolutely no athletic capabilities whatsoever. My future was set that day: I would be picked last in gym class for the next ten years. I compensated for this by joining Boy Scouts.

In high school and college, I discovered I wasn’t smart at everything. No matter how I put my mind to Algebra or not getting picked last in gym, I could not master them. I also joined the Debate team in high school, and won some awards, but not before realizing while sitting in a darkened school hallway in the middle of a dismal sophomore year that there were strict limits to my abilities. Even with art, which was the one thing I was really good at had its limits. I also found myself lacking in the charm department, severely limiting my ability to get a girlfriend. But Gramps was always home when I struck out with a lady, ready with a funny story and some ice cold Country Time lemonade.

In the years since, I’ve realized I have no talent for writing romantic mytery novels, running a small boat shop in Mexico, counting cards in Vegas, or impersonating an eccentric eastern European woman…

That seems to be part of growing up: realizing that you may not be able to do everything your parents told you you could. These days, I think parents are especially addicted to encouraging their kids. Everything is self-esteem. I knew a couple of parents who would buy their kid a trophy after every martial arts tournament he attended. Didn’t matter what the tournament was giving out, or if he actually did well, he got a trophy; because he was special. Mommy’s precious baby boy broke some boards and deserves a big shiny trophy!

That’s getting to be the norm though. We like organized sports, but we have stopped liking competition. So there’s no special recognition for exceptional kids, because that would make kids like me who played like turds feel bad. Solution? Give everyone a trophy! Yea! Everyone is equally awesome at everthing!

I’m not saying encouraging your kids is bad. I wouldn’t have tried anything if my parents hadn’t encouraged me. I’m just guessing that parents today have a lot more opportunities to do so than it used to be. In the old days, if a kid decided he wanted to be a ballet dancer on Broadway, his Dad “encouraged” him to get his lazy butt outside and milk the cows.

It’s kind of a let down to realize that you are indeed ordinary, just like the rest of us.

What’s ironic is that as a pastor, I spend my Sundays attempting to convince people that I am NOT special! There is nothing exceptional about me, that they don’t have. I have no special gifts that enable me to read the Bible or pray out loud or serve others any more than anyone else. Sundays are spent attempting to convince adults that they are good enough! We all have the same God! You can do it! You can recieve a calling from God and go through with it!

Alas, so many people will not be convinced. No matter how many trophies or ribbons or praises you give them, they refuse to stop feeling inadequate. I could haul in everyone’s Gramps and 50 gallons of Blue Bell premium homemade vanilla ice cream, and some people would still feel depressed about themselves!

Look at the Bible. Did a bunch of dirty, uneducated fishermen have any special skills to be disciples? I daresay, they did not. They didn’t even have the ability to ‘step out in faith’ half the time. But that’s what’s awesome about Jesus. He takes an adorable group of ragtag misfits and underachievers and pits them against the team of rich suburban white kids with fancy new uniforms, and kicks their butts.

What encouragements did your parents give you? What did you turn out to be just awful at? What actual talents did you discover you had?