When I was a child I was told that I was special.
Not special in a general sense – as in, unique in my own humanity – although that is also true. But special in the sense of particularly special. Of unique significance. More special, perhaps, than others.
Pity the child who grew up believing that. She is likely to grow up not with a healthy dose of self-esteem, but rather a tentatively perched sense of her own superiority. She does not feel whole and loved because of her humanness; but rather comes to find her wholeness and love-ability only to the extent that she is set apart from other humans. Ironically, the result of believing that one is particularly special is actually a deep insecurity – a fear of not being found to be all that special, after all. Maybe Mum and Dad got it wrong, and I’m just plain old ordinary. And of what worth would I be then?
It’s all a bit embarrassing really. And a bit pathetic – girl-told-she-was-special-now-battles-with-low-self-esteem. Wow, bring out the violins, and the Red Shield Appeal. Who knew that naval-gazing could end this tragically.
But seriously, this narrative about myself – which I have taken on and internalised as my own – has really shaped the person that I’ve become. The need to succeed, to prove myself – the fierce competitiveness with others and the super-sensitive-easily-threatened thing. The protectiveness of an image, and the pain when it is shattered. The roller-coaster ride of success and failure. The entitlement that I feel to ‘success’, and the pummelling to my self-worth that I experience in ‘failure’. And that constant feeling of expectation, bearing down always on my shoulders.
Like it or not, though, this is my story, and I need to own it. My mentor asked me today how I can ‘grow out from’ this story. Not as in moving on from it, but rather moving out from it. ‘Specialness’ is a part of my identity: how do I think about this in a way that is helpful?
I pondered the question as I rode back home on my bike. And I thought about Jesus, who really was ‘special’, in the sense that he impacted powerfully on this world. Ok, so that’s a massive understatement, but you get the gist. But Jesus’ ‘specialness’ was not a result of him trying to be special, or trying to ‘succeed’ in any earthly sense of the notion of success. Rather, Jesus’ ‘specialness’ was a result of him living out his God-given vocation. It came from him being true to who he was…and that’s how he impacted the world.
So maybe the way I can ‘grow out from’ my narrative of ‘specialness’ is to realise that…you guessed it, I already am special! Special not because of what I have achieved, but because of who I am. Not because of what I may become, but because of how I was born. I have fulfilled the expectations – simply by being here. All I need to do is become more fully the person that I was created to be.
And so there is no need to show the world that I am special. Because I already am. I already am.