"When the great, sweet Rabbi Zusia of Hanipol was on his deathbed, his students gathered all around him. The Teacher said to them:
When I get to the Next World, I am not afraid if God will ask me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Moses...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the leadership abilities of Moses.'
And if God asks, 'Zusia, why weren't you Isaiah...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the eloquence of Isaiah, the Great Master of powerful and dazzling speech.'
And if God should ask, 'Zusia, why weren't you Maimonides...?' I can answer, 'I did not have the vast intellectual skills of Maimonides.'
No, my students, I am not afraid of those questions. What I fear is this: What if God asks me, 'Zusia, why weren't you Zusia?'
Then what will I say?"
-A Hasidic tale; this version is adapted from Danny Siegel's rendition.
Since I was a very little girl, I have enthusiastically engaged in hero worship of one kind or another: finding and fixating on people whose lives inspire mine, whose courage or wisdom compel me to live more courageously and wisely. A few of these people I have found in real life, but most of them have come out of books (books which, naturally, carve and curate the lives of their subjects in such a way as to make me feel my own life will never measure up).
For the most part I've been okay with that. Having another moral mountain to climb or a new character flaw to conquer--these just seemed part of being human, and even more part of being Christian. In his letters to the ancient church, St. Paul was always setting up ideals towards which to aspire, extolling virtues that were already present in communities while listing what they had yet to perfect: love, harmony, peacemaking, truth-telling. In other words, Spirit-life in all of its beautiful, exhausting breadth and depth. When Paul talked about individual believers, it was much the same: good job, but there's more to be done! And then he went on about us running our races, throwing off whatever entangles, pressing on towards the goal.
In the Bible there are many heroes to choose from, but for Christians there is only One who rises above the rest and demands our worship: Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. Christ who forgave his enemies, Christ who re-established the law of love, Christ who was obedient to the point of death, even death on an awful old cross.
As I have long understood it, Christ is our Hero-with-a-capital-H. And we are to worship Him, to emulate Him, to BE like Him, even if it kills us.
A few months ago my therapist, after hearing me justify some awful (i.e. destructive) experiences I had put up with as a pastor and public Christian, finally quieted me with a wave of her hand and these words: "You have over-identified with Jesus."
I stopped talking and stared at her. Over-identified with Jesus? How can a Christian over-identify with Jesus? How is that even possible?
Before and since then she has elaborated on this statement with what I as a Christian feminist believe to be true but apparently forgot to apply to myself: "Jesus died so you wouldn't have to."
I have to believe--I must believe--that Jesus does not need me to spend my life killing myself in order to be like Him. I have to believe that, while Jesus is my Hero-with-a-capital-H, I am ultimately not called to be Jesus. I am only called to be ME. Thus when I, like Zusia, am called from this life and made to stand before the celestial throne, I will not have to explain why I wasn't Jesus or Mary or Deborah or some other of my endless line of heroes--because I am not them--but rather whether or not I was me in the best way I know how to be.
Beloved reader, we will not some day have to explain why we were not _________ (fill in the blank with the hero/family member/colleague/deity you aspire to be or beat yourself up for not being).
We will simply have to answer if we lived our lives as ourselves--our beautiful, imperfect, unique, confounding and contradictory selves.
Nearly nine months into this season of my life, I am accepting this to be true. Jesus is my Hero, but He is not me (and I most certainly am not Him). And with that truth accepted, so much that is good (and a fair bit that is not good) is settling into its proper place.
Not that I am learning a bunch of new stuff; most of what I am "discovering" I probably always knew to be true about me. But as I learn, I am trying, with God's help, to shape my life by what gives me life. I am embracing what is real and true in and around me, not just what I want to be true or my ego needs to be true.
And what gives me life? While I will always be learning and relearning that answer, I know it has to do with putting words on a paper or a screen; with having heart-to-hearts conversations with my children and helping them navigate their own beautiful, chaotic, unique lives. I know my life is real and given to me through adoring and connecting with and fighting with my husband; through seeing my family and talking with my friends; through feeding the people around me and myself with good food. I know my life has to do with prayer and connecting with God in the ways that He allows me to (and I will probably write on that again and again); at some point it may again have to do with helping others connect to God as He allows them to.
I know my life has to do with being careful with my words and considering others' feelings, including my own. I know it has to do with recognizing injustice and doing my part to correct it. I know my life has to do with soaking in the words of a well-written book, and learning how to speak with others in a language different from my own. I know my life has to do with sinking my feet into soil or sand and feeling the sun, the wind, or the rain on my face. I know that for me to be well I need some quiet and solitude, and that I have to literally pay to get either of those things with four kids in the house (and if I don't pay in one way, I--and they--will pay in others).
I intend to keep finding out what gives me life, and who I am in light of who God has made me to be. Sorrows, hurts, disappointment and loss will come, as they have never ceased to come all the days of my life: I just won't go running after them now.
My dear Jesus, I think You--the One who came that we might have life, and life to the full--are perfectly okay with that.
A blessing for you, and for me:
May I be me
And you be you
And we be us
With God's help,
and with an abundance
of love, peace, joy and strength,
for His Name's sake.