Trying to live love well through the power of the Everlasting.
So for as long as I can remember, I’ve had people speaking greatness into my life.
“Ethan, you’re destined for great things.”
“Ethan, I just know you’re going to be big someday.”
“Ethan, you have a calling on your life. A big one.”
“Ethan, when you were a baby, a woman had a prophecy that you would be a great prophet of God.”
It’s not always phrased the same, but ultimately the same meaning shines through: I’m supposed to become or do something significant. Something big. Sunday School teachers, high school teachers, pastors, friends, family members, even strangers. I used to roll my eyes at them, and then somewhere along the way my ego decided that I liked hearing that. It made me feel important. It made me feel superior.
Quite frankly, it made me an ugly person.
Not that it’s their fault, really, or that I can lay the blame at the feet of others. Circumstance may have paved the road a bit, but the choices I made were just that: choices that I made. Bad ones. Lots of ’em. But by the grace of the Living God, that’s not how my life will be defined. Not in his eyes, at least, and thankfully that’s where my identity comes from.
But I’m finding more and more just how far I let those praises penetrate and permeate. Each new day brings the same monotonous routine, working a low-paying job in this small town, far away from my dreams and desires. It’s true, I can only blame myself for these circumstances, and I know that Papa can and will use these days for the glory of his name. But somewhere in the routine, about once a week or so, that old familiar thought will creep into the back of my mind.
You’re so much more than this. Look at what you are capable of! You can be great. You should be great. You need to get out of here, as fast as possible, before the prime years of your life are wasted. Ah! What a shame! You could be an earth-shaker… everyone in your life says so, you know. “Marked for greatness.” Yessir, that’s what they say. If only God would remember and get a move on!
These thoughts are always accompanied by delusions of grandeur from my past: an internationally known pastor, speaker, and author. A humanitarian aid worker. An actor, A-list of course, bringing a breath of fresh air into Hollywood as a comfortably unashamed gay Christian, a voice of love, mercy, and goodwill. A politician, free of corruption and blazing his way towards a nation worth being called the home of the free. Oh, there’ll be books about me! Documentaries! Nobel prizes! Senate seats! An Oscar! Oh, the talk show interviews! The GQ cover!
As you can see, I’m extremely humble. Modest to a fault, that’s me.
The point is, these are the thoughts that drove me in the past. So many of my most despicable sins were committed in the pursuit of the greatness the I was apparently born to fill. Time and the Holy Spirit have done quite a bit of pruning, thankfully, so that through the power of Jesus Christ I’m usually able to speak the Father’s glory into the heart of that nagging voice tempting me towards the greatness of Ethan M. Thomas. Speaking the Father’s glory into the situation, you see, seizes up my heart and the Spirit rolls me over with a desire to see Christ lifted high. Now that, from what I was, is a testament to the transformative power of the gospel.
So what’s the point of all this?
I’m wondering just what the future holds for me. See? I’m still a bit self-centered. I’m still human, then. But some days I can’t help but wonder: does God have me marked for something, or were those just the wishful praises of people who loved a boy that knew how to put on a good show? Gifted with a good mind, certainly, and capable of charming people deeply, sure, but was that it? When I graduated from high school, I certainly looked like I had a rocket strapped to my back. A high GPA, graduating with honors, chosen to give the graduation speech, etc. I had a great smile, a pleasing disposition, and a gift for manipulation. So was all that talk about greatness tied into the front that I maintained, or is it more? Something deeper?
I take much of what I read in the books of the Bible with a dose of skepticism, not because I don’t value the scriptures, but because I don’t believe that they are iron-clad, be-all end-alls for Christian living. Guidelines is a term I often use. A way to engage in the story of God in a way that takes us outside of ourselves. So in that light, when I read many stories of characters mentioned in the books of the Bible, I often find a sense of greatness attached to the character from the outset. There could be a million reasons for that, but I was raised in a conservative household that believed in Biblical inerrancy, and so often in my weaker meditations I find myself defaulting to that.
And what it it’s true? What if these men and women actually existed, actually lived out their lives, and were actually marked with greatness from their very births, so much so that they were named with that expecation of greatness? What then? Could pastors, friends, and family members have tapped into something deeper when they predicted a great calling on me?
Such thoughts go round and round throughout my head as I try to make out even a hazy outline of my future. A betrayal of my monstrous ego, I think, but at the same time… I’m human. I’m a 27 year old guy wondering where I go from here. I live in a society that values success, and measures it through accomplishments. So in the inevitable times that I forget to let the Living God define me, I measure myself by the standard of the world I live in. I measure myself through the dreams of greatness that I once had for my name.
Well, by those standards, I’m a loser.
A big one.
And so the big struggle for me, in this season of my life, is remembering just where my identity comes from, and just how success is measured by my Heavenly Father.
I’ve found comfort in the story of Moses. There we have a young man – a young prince – destined for greatness. The Hebrews apparently thought so, and the Egyptians as well. After all, when you’re a part of the Royal Family, a great destiny is just kind of assumed, isn’t it? But through his own actions, Moses disqualifies himself and is brought low: from a royal prince in the ancient world’s superpower to a shepherd in, essentially, the wilderness.
I can kind of relate to that.
Moses’ bubble was popped. His eyes were opened, somewhere in all that, to the Living God. Moses went from, I think, a young man obsessed with the greatness of his own name to a man seeking the glory of the Father’s name, through whatever means the Father chose.
Of course, this transition took the entirity of Moses’ lifetime, and even at the end there was obviously still some work to be done.
I’m encouraged by Moses and his life as documented in the scriptures. Not because I think that I’m going to be a Moses or anything like that, but because I’m reminded that when we start to call valuable that which God calls valuable, we change. We can stop being spoiled, pampered princes and start becoming great workers for our King. I can cease to be obsessed with the glory that I can try to achieve for myself in a quick seventy years (if I’m lucky) and start thinking about how and where God can use me as he writes the story, for the glory of his name.
So when I think about the story of Moses, I know that I can get up and go to work at my seemingly meaningless job in my tiny, obscure town tomorrow, and the day after that, even if it lasts upwards of forty years. I believe that God’s doing something with the life I live in the meantime. And even if the call never comes to go to Egypt and do great things for the glory of the Father, I can know that I’m much better off this way than if I had twenty Oscars, various estates, the Oval Office, and a Nobel Peace Prize all for the greatness of me.
Because as I begin to value that which Papa values, I begin to see success as something entirely different than I ever have before.