As I walked into the gym where I work out, I noticed two huge posters hanging from the ceiling. One was a young man. He obviously worked out a lot, and his smile told everyone who looked at him that they would be lucky to be him. The portrait of the young woman was similar. Both banners celebrated the gym’s ability to help a person achieve the best version of themselves. “Build Your Best You,” the banners said, as if saying that if I would only spend enough time pumping iron and running on the treadmill I, too, could build my best self.
Really? I may be in better shape, but honestly, I’m not sure that would actually make me a better person. I’m 61 years old. My back hurts most of the time. I gave up looking like that guy on the poster a long time ago. If that’s what it takes to make the best me, then I’m out of luck.
Yet, I shouldn’t give up hope. In my local book store, there are all kinds of books with plans and suggestions to build my best me…all in 10 easy steps. If I just follow my passion, chase my dreams, stop listening to the negative voices in my life, and think more positively, then the whole universe will rally to my success.
Self-help books rarely work. That’s why we keep writing new ones.
When it comes to finding our best selves, the world plays a dirty trick on us. First, the world tells us we can be anything we want to be. Do you want to be a ballerina? Go for it! Want to be a rock star? Go for it, and don’t let anyone talk you out of your dreams!
Here’s the hard truth: you can’t be anything you want to be. Several years ago, when I was a much younger man, Michael Jordan, the great basketball player, introduced his new basketball shoes. “Air Jordans” costs over $200 in some styles. The commercial said that if you bought these shoes, you could “Be like Mike!”
No, you can’t. I bought the basketball shoes, and I was nothing more than a slow, fat, white guy in really nice shoes. No one confused me with Michael Jordan.
Now, here’s where the world gets dirty. When it turns out we can’t be anything we wanted to be, the world will tell us we didn’t want it badly enough. If you want it—really want it—then you’ll pay any price asked of you to achieve your goal. If we failed, then we really didn’t want it. We didn’t try hard enough. If you don’t get to be what you really wanted to be, it’s your own fault.
Not only are we stuck with the disappointing and sometimes life-changing humiliation of failing, but now we are buried under the guilt of not being strong enough and dedicated enough to achieve our dream. What the world doesn’t tell you is yes, you can be anything you want to be if you have the talent and disposition to succeed in that area.
As Christ-followers, we believe there’s a kingdom flow to history. We believe that every moment is flowing toward a God-ordained, God-crafted glorious finale. We believe that each of us is created to be part of that divine flow. God has invited us to join Him in His work, and each of us is created to be a specific part of that work. We have been given focused personalities and specific gifts to be part of God’s work.
This means we can’t build our best selves. We can’t choose our best selves. We can only receive our best selves. Our best selves are revealed to us through our relationship with Jesus Christ. Simon followed Jesus for a long time before Jesus said to him, “You are the rock.” Notice what Jesus said. He didn’t say, “You will become,” or “One day, you will be.” He said, “You are.” Present tense. Now, I’m sure the other disciples fell over laughing when they heard Jesus call Peter the “Rock.” Peter was anything but solid and stable. Yet, Jesus alone knew who Peter was and who he would become.
And only Jesus knew how Peter was gifted. Who knew the same disciple who denied knowing Christ would become the preacher of the great Pentecost sermon? Jesus did. Peter’s boldness, the same boldness that made him impulsive, when disciplined, became the courage to preach with conviction.
In the same way as Peter, each of us is gifted in certain ways to strengthen the church and further the work of the kingdom. All of us have gifts, although they can be hard to discern by ourselves because they’re gifts. Gifts are those things that come easily to us, and because they come easily to us, we don’t value them. Usually, someone around us, someone in our Bible study group, will point out what is obvious to everyone else. We’re good at something, and that something is useful to those around us. We have a gift.
Being in Nashville, I have the privilege of knowing several very good musicians. Sometimes, after they finish playing, I’ll say to them, “That was amazing.” You know what they will say to me? “Anyone can do that.” No, “anyone” can’t do that. I’m “anyone,” and I can’t do that.
Yet, it’s when we understand how we’re wired and gifted that we find our best selves. In aligning our work with the work of Christ—our hearts with His heart—we find the lives of purpose and hope we always wanted. No, they may not be what we envisioned, but they are what we would have wanted if we had been smart enough to want this life in the first place.