The Temptation To Be Relevant

I have been fighting a handicap all my life.

I consider it a handicap because it can be debilitating at times. And often, I have to consciously decide to overcome it because it is so much a part of my DNA, that left unchecked, I automatically default to it.

What’s my handicap? My desire to be relevant. To be revered based on my abilities, talents and skills. To be thought of as valuable, that I have something to offer, that I am necessary.

Now, none of those things seem evil in-and-of themselves. But when they become my main motivation and expectation in relationships, when I have fully convinced myself that these things are the litmus for my validity… then I have a problem.

This disability has several names.

People Pleasing.
Savior Complex.

It started at an early age. My family didn’t have a lot of money but my mom was a genius at fostering creativity. Teaching us to entertain ourselves and each other was a priceless gift. We weren’t inundated with toys and gadgets as so many kids are these days. So we learned to put on plays and fashion shows, we built blanket-forts in the living room, we made believe we were Indians while sleeping in a tee-pee in the back yard, we pretended we were various animals (once my sister barked for an entire day!) and we read books under our giant shade tree. Our entertainment was endless.

But once a year, usually during the long California summer, mom would take us to the toy store and my sister and I were to choose one item each.  It was to last us until Christmas, so we’d better make it a good one.

Being the animal lovers that we are… we usually gravitated toward a stuffed bear or a

floppy-eared puppy… or my favorite find when I was 5 years old – a stuffed monkey with tennis shoes, red suspenders and a plastic banana (I think he was supposed to be Curious George, but I insisted on calling him Mr. Bimm. this is really close to what he looked like).

Now, this is how I know that my handicap started early in life: My sister would spend hours, going through each and every stuffed animal, looking for the one that was perfect. It could have no flaws. No frayed ribbons or crooked bows. Her choice had to be perfectly fluffy, perfectly spot-free and was usually a perfectly smiling panda or cheerful puppy.

My choice took just as long to discover… but because I would go through each and every plush critter until I found the one that was stained, dirty, missing an eye, had its mouth sewn on crooked and/or had lost its buttons, bells or ribbons. Because… heroic 5 year old that I was… I was sure that if “I” didn’t rescue that down-trodden furry friend… no one else would! My goodness, I thought a lot of myself at the tender age of five.

I’ve told this story before and usually the initial reaction is one of sentiment (especially from women – just sayin’). “Oh, isn’t that the sweetest thing…”.  No people…. this is not sweet. It is sick. Sick. Sick Sick. I mean, I was barely ready for Kindergarten and I already had a Savior Complex! So certain I could save the world one rag-tag toy at a time!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not being overly hard on myself. I’m merely recognizing that we are all born with a sinful nature and each of us has a propensity towards certain sins… and this one is mine. All mine. Since birth, probably.

Here’s the Good News. We already have a Savior. And it’s not me (big unanimous sigh of relief). Yes, the Bible tells us we’re to emulate Christ. But it doesn’t tell us to try and replace Him. Cause, well… that’s impossible.  So I’ve had to try and figure out how to maneuver through life using this handicap to His glory and not to my own selfish schemes.

The other Good News is that Christ has the ability to take what can be my downfall… and turn it into something that fulfills His purposes. Can I get an amen? Its a constant challenge, to question my motives and confront my handicap. Granted, my life’s work and my extra-curricular activities have benefited from this savior complex of mine… I just have to be faithful and asking the Lord for forgiveness every time I try and get in the way. For example, if I’m honest, when I’m helping someone out – my natural inclination is that I want them to experience me, not Christ. I want them to walk away thinking, “Deb’s so great… so helpful. I’m so glad she’s in my life.” When they should be walking away praising God that He has provided for them and the whole experience should draw them closer to the One who truly loves them well. Yea, I can easily get in the way if I’m not paying attention.

So that’s why I’m so grateful for authors like Henri Nouwen who address this topic so openly, simply and profoundly. Here’s an excerpt from one of his many books, In The Name of Jesus (you need to read this especially if you’re the head of a family, a ministry and even a business). I could easily have quoted the entire book here – but here is what is speaking to me at the moment:

…it has become apparent that more and more people are suffering from profound moral and spiritual handicaps without having any idea of where to look for healing. It is here that the need for a new Christian leadership becomes clear. The leader of the future will be one who dares to claim his irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation tat allows him or her to enter into a deep solidarity with the anguish underlying all the glitter of success and to bring the light of Jesus there.

The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.

– Henri Nouwen

One of the underlying themes in most, if not all, of Henri’s books is that the best way for people to experience Jesus through you… is for you to enter into deep relationship with them. To feel their pain, to cry with them, to laugh with them and dance with them.  Not to answer all the questions or provide solutions to their “why’s”. Not to become their social worker or to be their problem solver or their rescuer or their faux-savior. Just be with them.

There is beautiful relevance found in Christ… and it’s felt most profoundly in our irrelevance.


7 thoughts on “The Temptation To Be Relevant

  1. Oo, I relate. I not only saved all the imperfect stuffed animals, but everything else that was broken. They all needed me.

  2. Oh Deb – thanks! I suffer from the same affliction. Your article is making me step back and reevaluate situations I am walking through right now so that I do not make the mistake of trying to be the “savior” or “fixer”. Too heavy a burden…thank God He can handle it much better than me!

  3. Pingback: 2010 in review « What I'm Thinkin'…

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