The littlest birds
Jesus set the book of nature before me and I saw that all the flowers He has created are lovely. The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wildflowers to make the meadows gay.
It is just the same in the world of souls – which is the garden of Jesus. He has created the great saints who are like the lilies and the roses, but He has also created much lesser saints and they must be content to be the daisies or the violets which rejoice his eyes whenever He glances down. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being that which He wants us to be.
- St. Thérèse of Lisieux - Story of a Soul (1898)
There’s something to be said for feeling special. We think of it as a good thing, that special denotes a value above ordinaray, above normal. Parents tell their children, teachers tell their students, bosses tell employees. They say, “Develop pride in yourself,” though not usually with those words. We think of it as a good thing.
Ask a group of people to raise their hand if they think they’re an above-average driver. In that fictitious crowd, will half the hands remain still? Will the number be even close? We are all affected by this sense of unreality we project on ourselves and others. We are the exception, the unique ones, worth more than the others and deserving of more.
But what about those hands? If so many are raised, what does that mean? Are we all above average? Are we all special? Some people will tell you that’s it exactly! We are all unique and beautiful and special in our own way, but then what does “special” even mean? Words become devoid of meaning and semantics takes the reins.
These days even mentioning alternatives is offensive. To say that yes, some people are not special, that they are just regular average Joe’s seems to raise up hackles. Or worse, think about how you feel when you read this sentence: Some people are better than others.
Ready to leave an angry comment yet? What is it about the idea of (in)equality that offends our sensibilities so deeply to elicit such a primal reaction? I didn’t even qualify my statement by defining what I meant by better. I could have been talking about some people being better at balancing on a high-wire, but it didn’t matter. It’s not simply a matter of me being wrong. If I had said, “There’s no such thing as a person over six feet tall,” people would dismiss it as uninformed and ridiculous. No, with this question there is something more invested. Why do you think this is? Why is it okay to call someone special as long as everyone is special, but not to say that everyone is the same, or that one person is better than another.
I look upon myself as a weak little bird, with only a light down as covering. I am not an eagle, but I have only an eagle’s eyes and heart. In spite of my extreme littleness I still dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an Eagle…
I don’t want this post to turn into a big diatribe about the modern cause for equality vs. the pedagogy of uniqueness and individuality. I recognize that these are necessary and positive things in many arenas. Certainly understanding the innate equality of rights of all human beings is important just as is developing children that can act with confidence. Instead, I want to focus on the specific question of individual self-value.
By self-value, I don’t necessarily mean self-esteem. I mean the understanding of the deep, natural value of a human life. These are indistinguishable from one another. These are equal, and like St. Thérèse says, they are all important. Some lives burn bright, some muddle through life dimly, but they’re all part of God’s plan. Even the littlest birds can sing a beautiful song. This young saint, in her early 20s at the time of her death, never accomplished great things. She never traveled. She wasn’t martyred. She simply lived life’s little moments and found God in them. This simple girl, who was certainly not special for her time, is now one of only three women to be called Doctor of the Church.
I was dished out an extra helping of pride as a child, and I clung to it dearly as I grew older. Long after I’d put away my stuffed camel (never had a teddy-bear), I still had the comfort of knowing in my heart that I was special. I deserved more from life and I was going to see that it came to me, no matter the cost. It’s a sense of entitlement that I see in a lot of people and groups around me. Perhaps because I know it so intimately, it fills me with anger when I recognize it now. I see my own weakness and ignorance in others, and I want to scream, “Look at my weaknesses!”
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
- 2 Corinthians 12:9
It’s okay to want two kids in the suburbs. You can still face the challenge of God in every little thing you do. Lets be honest, it might not be special, but that doesn’t make it worth less than any other great achievement. You don’t have to be a movie star or own a powerful company, and you don’t have to be a saint. Just don’t be tempted by pride, not even false pride.